By Chadwick Boseman. Dir. Derrick Sanders. With Bakesta King, Javon Johnson, Terrance Watts, Ron Conner. Congo Square Theatre Company at Duncan YMCA Chernin Center for the Arts.
Boseman has a lot on his plate in Congo Square’s first commissioned work. His ambitious piece of hip-hop theater covers a lot of ground—anorexia to police corruption to black-on-black violence to media manipulation—and attempts to wrap it all in a traditional, based-on-a-true-story crime structure. One gets the sense that Boseman is making the excited young playwright’s mistake of trying to cram everything he ever wanted to say into one play. It’s a lot to digest, and the work suffers somewhat from the broad focus. Still, Boseman is plainly a talented writer, and there’s a lot to admire here.
The play’s language is the first thing you notice: heightened, hip-hop–influenced rhyming speech. It takes some getting used to, but the dazzling effect is remarkably like Shakespearean verse. The language lends a deeper sense of tragedy to the story of Azure (King), mourning the death of her boyfriend Deep (Watts) at the hands of a cop. Azure is convinced there’s more to the incident than the officer’s story lets on, and she’s determined to discover the truth. She’s both helped and hindered by Deep’s friend Tone (Johnson) and her own battle with her eating disorder, which weakens her physically but, in one of the play’s oddest turns, provides her with the key to solving Deep’s murder through a hunger-induced fever dream. That twist is part of the second-act slide into melodrama that doesn’t live up to the promise of the strong first act. If Deep Azure is indicative of Boseman’s promise as a playwright, however, we have plenty to look forward to.