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Flipside

nytheatre.com review by Julia Lee Barclay
August 14, 2012

Flipside is one of those rare theatrical experiences that is equal parts intelligent, funny, moving, important and innovative. The extraordinary company HartBeat, an ensemble out of Hartford, CT, created this piece in workshops, devising it as a group, working with a drug dealer to get his story.  Equally compelling is the story the piece tells of the policeman who eventually arrests him.

The actor Brian Jennings does an excellent job playing an aging police officer, Nick, who was a gung-ho drug warrior in his youth but watched as what he naively thought were ‘good’ arrests destroy innocent lives.  As an older undercover cop, he tries to keep the young drug dealer, Bo, played with precision, humor and grace by Chinaza Uche, from getting arrested but cannot any more than his then-wife could in his earlier days deter him from his obsession with “the rush, the adrenaline chase.”

Three women, the talented Taneisha Duggan, Cindy Martinez & Julia B Rosenblatt, act as a Chorus, singing and and playing multiple male and female roles,.  Because the story unfolds as a classical modern tragedy, it is apt that they are referred to as a chorus.  Rosenblatt also wrote the play, working with the actors to devise it. She has written an excellent text from this material.

The innovation is in the creative staging, which intertwines the dual points of view of the white cop and the black drug dealer, neither overshadowing the other.  Using a combination of Brecht and Boal techniques, the performance makes clear the socio-economic mechanisms that makes these men act as they do.  Yet, what makes the show unique is that this awareness does not take away from the emotional resonance of the play.  It is rare and a privilege to witness a performance that is as smart as it is heartfelt.

The director of this play, Gregory B. Tate, died this summer and the remounted tour was directed by Steven Ginsburg.  Both men deserve commendation and congratulations for co-founding this truly astounding ensemble that is creating work of true social importance without sacrificing artistic integrity.

Make sure you get to see this show if you care about seeing excellent political theater that shows with humor and sophistication how people on the flipside of the drug war get involved with what most of us only see on the news.