Written by Tony Jenkins
Directed by Tony Jenkins and Chessa Metz
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
“I was not born for death and yet I have died a thousand times, he thought. And now I am born again for these hard times.” – Kathryn Lasky, “Frost Wolf”
In forty powerfully engaging minutes, the cast of “Black Magic” explores the lives of seven slain black men “in the era of Orlando, Ferguson, and Black Lives Matter.” These are not ordinary “dead” men. These slain men speak to the audience about their lives, their grieving families, their murderers, their lovers, their children, and their remarkable ability to have died and “yet still are still here.” They speak to their gay sons, to their mothers and to their grandmothers who raised them. They even speak directly about the systemic racism that killed them and directly to the guns that killed them and to those who pulled the triggers of those guns time after time after time.
The stories of the slain black men are told in spoken word, stunning movement, and song with just a touch of clowning around. Mr. Jenkins is an accomplished spoken word artist whose work relies heavily on the rhetorical devices of ethos and pathos and employs rich imagery and figurative language to persuade the audience to share not only in the responsibility for the ravages of systemic racism but how to be change agents embracing non-judgmental and unconditional love instead of the weaponry of hatred and mistrust. Under the co-direction of Tony Jenkins and Chessa Metz, the uniformly brilliant cast – together for just one week – bring the stories to redemptive catharsis that lingers long after the final scene. Although they number seven, they manage to speak with one clear voice jettisoning between the joys of their lives and the tragedies of their collective deaths.
In that final scene, the cast engages the audience in deciding how to move forward after death and rebirth, how to rethink choices given humankind in the recurring gifts of new Gardens of Eden where the fruit (or the glove) of the knowledge of good and evil challenges each First Man and First Woman. How humankind moves forward is a choice not to be taken lightly. What is clear is that the resilience of slain black men will not diminish and that somehow, sometime death and crying will be no more.
In a talkback following the first performance of “Black Magic,” writer Tony Jenkins shared that the new play was not something he intended to write, not even something he wanted to write. The play chose him and he had to write it. After the recent string of gun violence and violence against men and women of color, there was nothing else to do “but write.” Mr. Jenkins, Ms. Metz and their cast have collaborated to create a moving piece of theatre that will endure beyond its time at FringeNYC 2016.
“Black Magic” is not always easy on the mind but it is undyingly kind to the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation. The play’s message transcends race, color, sex, sexual status, and age: its rich and enduring questions connect with all who seek to move East of Eden with a renewed spirit of hopefulness rooted and grounded in love.