by Mark G. Auerbach
Dominique Morriseau’s Sunset Baby is a brash and bold family drama that is, at times poetic, at times sobering, and always tense and taut. A young woman, Nina, was born from a relationship between an addicted mother and Kenyatta, a Black Power activist, who ended up in jail, when Nina was a toddler. When Nina’s mother dies, she leaves her daughter a stack of letters she had written but never sent to Nina’s father–letters being sought for a price by historians. As Sunset Baby begins, Nina is contacted by her now out-of-prison father, with whom she’s had no contact since early childhood. He wants to read the letters. Nina’s boyfriend, a street hustler, wants the letters for their value. The confrontation of father and daughter is brutal, raw, and rough, traits that roll over into Nina’s relationship with her boyfriend.
Morriseau’s script, framed by the activist’s monologues attempting to explain his actions to his daughter, is laced with diatribes of anger, frustration and hurt, punctuated by a liberal dose of grating F-bombs, and N-words language. Yet, there’s a rhythm of lyricism beneath the street talk. Julian Evans’ sound design adds so much to the mood. Alexander Woodward’s set, Karen Perry’s costume designs, and Rob Denton’s lighting designs are superb. Director Reginald L. Douglas stages Sunset Baby with intensity. Most of the creative team are new to TheaterWorks audiences.
Brittany Bellizeare’s performance as Nina is superb on every level; it’s an exhausting role, and one which requires stamina, and Bellizeare surfs the waves of raw emotion effortlessly.
Veteran actor and Hartford native Tony Todd is commanding as Kenyatta, Nina’s father and former freedom fighter. Carlton Byrd was smooth as the hustler. As an ensemble, this trio of actors worked so well to bring out the power and nuance of Morriseau’s script.
Seeing Sunset Baby on the evening of The Ghostlight Project, a national initiative to make our theatres a sanctuary for all, added to the mood at TheaterWorks. In Sunset Baby, three marginalized characters seek sanctuary from the world around them: a father who gave up a chance to raise a a daughter for “the greater good”; a hustler wise in the ways of the streets, but unable to escape them; and a daughter who has to confront her past in order to move forward. For the adventurous theatregoer, Sunset Baby has a lot to offer, although the journey will challenge.
TheaterWorks presents Sunset Baby by Dominique Morisseau. Directed by Reginald L. Douglas. Scenic design by Alexander Woodward. Costume design by Karen Perry. Lighting design by Rob Denton. Sound design by Julian Evans. Cast: Brittany Bellizeare, Carlton Byrd, and Tony Todd. Through February 19. TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl Street, Hartford, CT. For tickets: 860-527-7838 or www.theaterworkshartford.org
Mark G. Auerbach studied theatre at American University and the Yale School of Drama. He’s worked for arts organizations and reported on theatre for newspapers and radio.