When the lights came on, we discovered two women half-buried in the sand – one more woman than the stingy women Samuel Beckett presents in “Happy Days”. But Beckett’s semi-underground Winnie only face the horrors of eternity. As for Angela and Odessa, the main characters in “sandblasting“Having had its world premiere on Off Broadway on Sunday, the point is closer to home.
Much closer: you could say not even by arm’s length. Because in less than a minute, that appendage fell out of Angela’s body like a ripe fruit on a tree.
Kudo to the prosthetic designer, Matthew Frew, for the lifelike limbs, and to Simpson for the spark of surreal humor at the start a play that wants to be a comedy by Beckettian about black women at the extremes. If it fails, it’s not for lack of trying.
For me, it tries too hard. The central metaphor – that Black women are literally falling apart – is deftly explored, but the problems that can make it so weighty are left, like Angela and Odessa, buried. in the sand. Random racist violence and increase in infant mortality rate only checked names.
That’s not to say that every play about black women has to be a tragic news release. In a way, it’s a relief when Angela and Odessa emerge from the sand, there’s some interesting back and forth between them. However, there is not much growth, unless you count the shedding of body parts. Angela (Brittany Bellizeare) lost her nose and one toe; Odessa (Marinda Anderson) reconnects her arm but occasionally loses her finger.
At first, the women were strangers, coming to the same beach in search of sand and fresh air that they heard could “slow the course” of their plague. Both are relevant to an at-risk demographic: stressed Black women, especially those living in large cities. Although they share the same disaster, they have cute opposites: Odessa blingy, fateful and cool; Angela is a bookworm, anxious and eager to please. She calls herself a “safety cat” instead of a “scared cat.”
But with the beach treatment more or less a bust, they still begin together on a crazy quest to seek the advice and care of an Oprah-like healthcare professional named Adah. . Adah, who says she’s “under the age of 100”, is not plagued by the disease, and has thus become a popular source of inspiration about the disease, writing books, giving lectures (“Girl, Stop”. Falling Apart!”) And preach the gloomy gospel of self-reliance.
However, “sandblasting” is not a satire of Oprah or Oprah-ism; especially played by former broadcaster and talk show host Rolonda Watts, Adah is at least as warm as she is emotional. You can’t help but like her even though she’s oblivious to how her prerogative provides insulation and her prescriptions get confusing and fickle. When she joins Angela and Odessa on a journey that seems more spiritual than medical, she suggests they travel east. Wait, no, west. Well, somewhere.
The game is also similar: its path is sometimes random, its chronology is jumbled for no reason. Angela and Odessa also seem contentious; they swap positions in their arguments, perhaps to maintain the seeming conflict that is less existent. The heated disagreement only emerged when Angela’s playboy brother did; Jamal (Andy Lucien) attends an Adah presentation, so he’ll “seem more understanding when I’m dating” and try to pick up the no-have-must-have-is-Odessa girl, who which he met by chance at the bar where he worked.
The actors, under the direction of Summer L. Williams, are all delightful, making the most of the characterful writing as it is offered and doing what they can with the large self-conscious poems Simpson has asked them to deliver.
And the “sandblasted” – a replica of the Vineyard theater and project for women – also looks handsome, its surreal landscape rendered against Matt Saunders’ backdrop by the mounds of sand, the cottony sky and doors and windows cut into the vortex horizon. Witty costumes (by Montana Levi Blanco) and outdoor lighting (by Stacey Derosier) help combat the ambiguity of time and place. Despite those pitfalls, the play, with 18 scenes totaling an hour and 40 minutes, is too long for its good, a problem not ameliorated by its frantic pacing and awkward transitions.
Not everyone will feel that way. Some in the audience the night I attended indicated by whispers and snaps their appreciation for the beautiful phrases and tender messages of caring for one another and capture a day. And although I found the metaphors oppressive, I must admit they were eye-opening. A particularly elaborate person introduced me to the phenomenon of fulgurites: glass tubes that form underground when lightning strikes the sand.
In the context of “sandblasting”, they clearly represent the Black women themselves, the lightning of disaster that merged with their own nature to create something beautiful and precious – and often buried.
Through March 13 at the Vineyard Theater, Manhattan; vineyardtheater.org. Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/27/theater/sandblasted-review.html Rating: In ‘sandblasted,’ Capture the date. Also Nose.