nytheatre.com review by Amy E. Witting
April 6, 2011
Born Bad, a disturbingly beautiful play by British playwright debbie tucker green, making its U.S. premiere at Soho Rep, kept me on my toes for its entire jam-packed lyrical sixty minutes. The upsetting subject matter has been tackled many times before, but the poetry of tucker green’s words is refreshing, new, and portrayed stunningly by the ensemble cast of six.
On a simple and elegant set designed by Mimi Lien, the play opens in dark stillness with the beautiful and chilling gospel rendition of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” bringing us immediately into the world of this tortured family. It’s clear from the first moment—when Dawta approaches Dad asking him to “Say it.”—that we're dealing with a secret that revolves around the patriarch, and his eerie silent response speaks volumes. As the story unravels, we learn and question the truth of what really happened.
The story is centered on deconstructing the eldest daughter (Dawta)'s accusations against her family, and her mother in particular. It’s beautiful to watch the six characters, who remain on stage once introduced, baring witness to each conversation. Heather Alicia Simms, who plays Dawta, has moments of authenticity that are alluring. But it’s the powerhouse talent of Crystal A. Dickinson, as Sister #2, that literally had me on the edge of my seat. The story started to fly once she stormed on stage demanding Dawta to “move from mi [me].” Dickinson’s anxious energy layered with pain, rage, and sympathy is so wonderfully orchestrated that I’m looking forward to seeing much more from this extremely talented actress.
Dad, played by Michael Rogers with brilliant haunting stillness, is so present it is hard to look at him, and at times hard to look away.
I commend Leah C. Gardiner for her precise direction, and taking this poetic script and pushing it to its limits. The scene changes are flawless with each actor moving the simple set of five chairs to create a striking tableau that forced me to continue to ask myself who really was at fault.
What I found the most interesting, and at the heart of the play, is that each character, no matter how dark and troubled he or she appears, has a different version of the truth that is real to them. One sister decides to forget, one denies, the brother feels he was the victim, and Dawta believes she was chosen to do what her mother wasn’t capable of doing. As the siblings battle it out I could feel the pain radiate from the silent and present parents. How much did the mother know? What was the father’s motivation? I was deeply involved in each character’s version of the same story, and left feeling a range of emotion and questions about the actual event.
Born Bad is a brave, emotionally charged, sometimes hard to watch, and in moments darkly humorous play, that sparked feelings and questions of how one can view the same event in stark contrast to another. tucker green has a unique voice, and it is my hope she continues to tackle dangerous subjects with the precision that has made this play one I will remember.