The Liquid Plain
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The Liquid Plain: Theater review by David Cote
American theater needs more plays like Naomi Wallace’s The Liquid Plain—by which I mean works that are historical, epic and poetic, that valorize the lives of the poor and oppressed. I’m just not sure they should be exactly like The Liquid Plain, which is also mannered, disjointed and unintentionally mawkish. At least, those are the qualities that stand out in Kwame Kwei-Armah’s wobbly production, which would benefit from an abler cast and a bolder theatrical style.
The action takes place in a freely imagined 1791 and 1837 on the docks of Bristol, Rhode Island. Two runaway slaves, the West African–born Adjua (Kristolyn Lloyd) and the more Americanized Dembi (Ito Aghayere) pull a nearly drowned sailor from the depths. Their crossed paths lead to a sexual assault and passage aboard a ship bound for freer lands (back to Africa, they hope). Years later, a woman named Bristol (LisaGay Hamilton) travels to Rhode Island from England in search of her father and revenge.
The plot is both patchy and packed, and the dense text is pitched at a high level, reminiscent of Edward Bond’s blunt earthiness as well as the poetic transports of William Blake (who makes an amusing ghost cameo, thanks to the vigorous Karl Miller). Plain takes on wide-ranging issues—slavery, memory, gender, justice—but its voyage goes in an ever-shrinking circle.—David Cote
Pershing Square Signature Center (see Off Broadway). By Naomi Wallace. Directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 15mins. One intermission.
Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote