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Theater review by Regina Robbins
When the Johnsons sit down to dinner in Patricia Ione Lloyd’s new play, Eve’s Song, they do everything right, from placing their cloth napkins neatly on their laps to saying “please” and “thank you” as they pass the rolls. Mom Deborah (De’Adre Aziza) takes pride in making a nice meal for her teenage kids, even after working all day at a demanding corporate job. But as the head of this high-achieving African-American family, newly separated from her husband, she’s beginning to fray at the edges. When Lauren (Kadijah Raquel), Deborah’s elder child and a college student, becomes involved with Upendo (Ashley D. Kelley), a sexually fluid political activist, the Johnson home starts coming apart—literally.
The first half of Eve’s Song plays as kooky dark comedy, but supernatural elements assert themselves with increasing frequency as the action progresses. While Lauren explores her burgeoning queer identity, Deborah’s life goes further off the rails; meanwhile, the ghosts of black women swirl around them, heartbroken and forgotten, threatening the family’s suburban middle-class bubble.
A pro’s pro, director Jo Bonney guides the cast on a disquieting journey from humor to tragedy; newcomer Raquel is especially impressive as the sensitive Lauren, dismayed to find that her sexual awakening brings with it a growing political consciousness. As plays about racial violence flood New York stages in an overdue cascade, Lloyd rises above the tide on the strength of her original voice. Guess who’s coming to dinner? Someone you thought was dead and buried.
Public Theater (Off Broadway). By Patricia Ione Lloyd. Directed by Jo Bonney. With De’Adre Aziza, Kadijah Raquel. Running time: 1hr 40 mins. No intermission.