ORLANDO — Rachel Lynett’s wildly original play Apologies To Lorraine Hansberry (You Too, August Wilson) has a humdinger of an opening concept: Following Donald Trump’s election as president, America collapses into a civil war that leads to the creation of a brand new state, Bronx Bay, reserved exclusively for residents who are black, while there’s another state created for the gay community. With no hint whatsoever that we’re entering The Sound Of Music territory, the play boldly, comically, and with a good deal of passion and emotion, takes us into an entirely new concept of what blackness and queerness mean today.
And I’ll say this, if you’ve ever watched a stage play and felt like the story felt overly familiar, even too predictable, book a ticket now for Apologies. This is anything but a TV sitcom that seems tastefully cute and good for a few chuckles.
Apologies To Lorraine Hansberry opened on Wednesday at Orlando Shakes and will be performed there through Oct. 30. What should you expect? Now, that’s a good question.
What is Apologies To Lorraine Hansberry?
Granted, the play may start out with a fairly radical setup, but then it seems to settle into something of a domestic drama — at first. In Bronx Bay in 2020, Lorenzo is married to Alice, who is a cook, and they’re friends with Jules, who is gay and in a relationship with Yael. Tensions start when Yael gets a phone call and answers in Spanish, prompting Alice to suspect that Yael might not really be black, maybe only partially black, and doesn’t belong in a state reserved exclusively for blacks who want to feel safe from MAGA land.
Oh, and Jules and Yael have an ongoing squabble about whether they should live in the exclusively black state, or the exclusively gay state. Are they black queers, or queer blacks? Hmm.
The drama progresses until another friend, Izaak, bursts into one of their parties aiming a gun at Yael — well, actually, it’s a rubber chicken, not a gun — and threatening to turn her over to authorities because she’s not really black.
That’s when the actors stop the scene, bringing it completely to a halt — and decide this isn’t working. Okay, time to start over.
As you can imagine, Lynett’s play happily jettisons traditional plots and character development, as least as far as we’re used to them on nightly sitcoms and dramas, where the cast is neatly defined, the plot follows a standard course, and the resolution is neat and tidy. Lynett has a lot more fun with her show, having several characters stop the play to offer some exposition, including the history lesson about when abolitionist Frederick Douglass defeated Abraham Lincoln for the presidency and set the nation on a different course, to the game show where contestants win good money for answering questions about significant moments in (revised) black history. The play is an hour and 40 minutes long, and Lynett never runs out of off the wall ideas in that time. That’s part of what makes it so fun.
Does Apologies To Lorraine Hansberry Work as Entertainment?
While audiences that prefer more vanilla types of entertainment might scratch their heads, I found Apologies’ fast-tracking of a wide assortment of concepts to be intriguing, not the least of which is the fabulous sense of humor that Lynett and her cast bring to it. The five cast members do some really outstanding work here, especially when you consider that they’re mainly portraying concepts and ideas more than characters.
Elaina Walton brings a marvelously sassy, bold and spirited attitude to Alice, while Renata Eastlick has some of the show’s highlights, from emotionally gripping moments to hilarious sketch comedy. Desiree Montes as Yael, K.P. Powell as Lorenzo and Zoa Glows as Izaak each have their own sublime moments when they stand out and make a striking impression.
Now, here’s a question: Was this a play primarily written for black audiences, to finally put on stage a work that speaks to their interests, concerns and values? Or was it a play written for white audiences, in the hopes of broadening their minds, expanding their viewpoints, encouraging them to leave the theater with plenty to think about?
I toyed with that question midway through the play, but ultimately concluded it wasn’t relevant. I suspect Apologies To Lorraine Hansberry is the kind of show that juggles so much that everyone in the audience will take away something different from it.
For me, the play’s focus on black or queer people feeling alienated from aspects of the larger society hit home. As a theater critic who is gay and married to another man, and who has spent the past six months listening to leading Florida politicians tell me I’m “woke” and, of course, out to destroy all that’s decent in society, I mostly left the show saying things like “Hallelujah” and “Amen.”
Where Can I See Apologies To Lorraine Hansberry?
Apologies To Lorraine Hansberry (You Too, August Wilson) will be performed in the Goldman Theater at The Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 812 E. Rollins St. in Loch Haven Park. For tickets or reservations, call the Box Office at 407- 447-1700 Ext. 1.
Kudos as well to director Roberta Emerson for her highly creative and energetic direction, and to scenic designer Tramaine Berryhill for a truly fantastic set design.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.