November 10, 2015
There's a bit of James Joyce in Ralph Lemon. Poet streams over a landscape of personal and social themes dramatically rendered by Okwui Okpokwasili and April Matthis. A host of emotions sprawl over the piece. Deep despair, crying, moaning, shouting and unfettered hope. The feelings are told through stories voiced and physically enacted at first by the stunning Ms. Okpokwasili, whose high cheek bones bisect a patrician face and later by the physically fuller, Ms. Matthis. Both women’s voices rise and lurch in the jazz vernacular, dipping into syncopated rhythms that jump start lives and quiet destinies.
People mill around the dark open theater space at the Kitchen until someone starts to jump on a top bunk bed mattress. Around the corners of the bed, there’s a video projection of a woman moaning, and crying, and crying. Soon the jumping stops and the stunning, long limbed Okpokwasili climbs down. Simultaneously, people move forward with folding chairs and there's some skirmish about where to sit and how to line up the chairs in the darkness. Disorientation established, the show begins when the deep female voice starts up the Lemonesque stream of consciousness. Source texts include Katy Acker, “Empire of the Senseless” and Rip Off Red, Girl Detective. Snatches of songs underscore deep sadness or unaccounted for frivolity.
Over and over, the stories tell of dreams groping for air and joys that spin around the world. But mostly, it's a journey, an internal one that echoes inside many people, and in particular, people of color whose existence sometimes feels absent.
When “Scaffold Room” ceases, everyone starts moving slowly towards the exit only to see the doors open, light stream in and three dancers break into an existential, club dance. Arms fling out to the side; torsos pump side to side over flexible hips in bouncing, sensual movement sequences. Stashed in the box office, DJ Kevin Beaseley blares the music for Omagbitse Omagbemi, Paul Hamilton and Malcolm Low. Suddenly the energy level soars, the music and dancing is infectious infiltrating audience members who start to move. When the mesmerizing section ends—people stay to dance, talk and catch their breaths.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis