Review: 'BLKS' Is Shocking, Hilarious, and Poignant
Joe Siegel READ TIME: 3 MIN.
There's a moment in Aziza Barnes' "BLKS" that sums up the frustrations and dismay of the female protagonists perfectly. After her friend June has been assaulted, Octavia expresses her anger at the tone-deaf response of the New York City police.
"They don't believe we are people," Octavia says. "They think we're animals."
"BLKS," which is short for "Blacks," focuses on Black women's sexuality, their relationships, and their struggles to survive in an uncaring world.
Burbage Theatre Company's production is alternately shocking, hilarious, and poignant as we follow a quartet of friends over the course of a few days in 2015.
Daria Lyric Montaquila is Octavia, who has a complicated relationship with her girlfriend, Ry (Ayrin Ramirez Peguero). The women are collaborating on a "Black queer indie movie," but those plans are jeopardized after Octavia suffers a health scare. Imani (Autumn Jefferson) is a budding standup comedian mourning the loss of her father. June (Abraphine Ngafaih) shares her anger over her boyfriend's repeated cheating. The women dress up for a night of partying at a downtown club. Imani flirts with a white woman (Sarah Gruber) and later performs a disastrous comedy routine.
Director Catia, who has acted in several Burbage productions, has crafted a fast-paced show with vibrant performances.
Montaquila's Octavia is a real force of nature, a troubled woman who drinks heavily and is plagued by self-doubt. Her demons manifest themselves in creative ways, mostly by asking various men for sexual favors.
Montaquila is adept at showing the different shades of Octavia's personality. There's a funny scene when Octavia lashes out at Justin (Jordan Daniel Smith), the nice guy June brought to their apartment. Minutes later, Octavia softens and reveals a more playful side.
Jefferson conveys a tender vulnerability after her failed stand-up routine and in her uneasy interactions with the woman she met at the club. Imani reveals she's from Haiti, and admits to being homesick.
One problem with the show is it attempts to cram too much into its 90-minute runtime. There are images of Black Lives Matter protestors projected onto a wall, and we hear chants of "Hands Up, Don't Shoot." I sympathize with the message, but it feels out of place.
Barnes supplies her characters with very coarse dialogue, especially regarding female genitalia and various sex acts. These women don't hold back when it comes to expressing their feelings. It's a little disturbing to see Octavia and her friends pursuing sex so casually. The possibility of getting STDs or HIV/AIDS never seem to enter their minds. I realize "BLKS" isn't meant to be a cautionary tale about the hazards of unsafe sex, but maybe one of the women could've said something about it, however briefly. There's also quite a bit of alcohol consumption and drug use in the show. The consequences of that is never explored, either. This is not a criticism, just an observation.
"BLKS" sheds a light on a portion of society that is often overlooked, namely Black lesbians. We get to know these women over the course of an hour and half. Their behavior isn't always understandable, but the production is an engrossing experience because of the passion that the actresses bring to these characters.
"BLKS" runs through December 3. Burbage Theatre Company. 59 Blackstone Avenue, Pawtucket, RI. For tickets, call 401-484-0355 or visit burbagetheatre.org.
Joe Siegel has written for a number of other GLBT publications, including In newsweekly and Options.