nytheatre.com review by Nicholas Linnehan
September 15, 2011
“How far are you willing to go to protect a child”? This statement captures the essence of Radha Blank's original play, Seed. Seed examines the life of burnt-out social worker Anne Simpson. Anne, played adeptly by Bridgit Antoinette Evans, decides to leave the front lines of the battlefield and write a manual about her career in human services. However, her journey is interrupted by a haunting past and a present-day 12-year-old boy named Chee-Chee. Anne battles her demons of yesterday and today and makes a startling decision that changes her whole life.
The grappling issue of where should people draw the line when trying to protect children takes center stage in Seed. Yet Blank does not stop there. She paints an unnerving glimpse into the reality of Harlem during the crack epidemic. Also, she candidly shows us the problems with the “system” and just how easily children can get overlooked and fall through the cracks. Her contemporary view on both these issues hits a little too close to home. I heard moments of audience feedback as people were clearly identifying with the truth of the bleak reality that still plagues us today.
One day on her way home Anne Simpson collides with Chee-Chee, a very bright 12-year-old boy. (We later find out that Chee-Chee masterminded the meeting.) Anne is reluctant to get involved with Chee-Chee as he is not her client. Yet Chee-Chee's brilliance and charm win her over and the two become fast friends. Evans and Khadim Diop (Chee-Chee) are a match made in heaven. It is clearly understood that these two are kindred soulmates of a sort. Chee-Chee battles accepting who he is versus what he thinks he should be. He's undoubtedly a genius, yet he tries to belong to his “niggas” which makes him do stupid things. Diop captures Chee-Chee's spirit, intelligence, and charisma with an alarming amount of conviction for a younger artist. He understands his character well and seems to flesh out the subtle nuances of Chee-Chee impeccably. Evans and Diop are able to handle the beautiful poetry that is interwoven into this piece with great skill.
The other cast members are noteworthy as well. Jocelyn Bioh plays Chee-Chee's mother Latonya (pronounced emphatically as La- TONE-Ya). She brings comedy and a sense of depth to what otherwise looks like a stereotypical character. We understand that Latonya is as much of a victim of the system as everyone else. And despite her tough exterior, she loves her son and is only trying to protect him. Pernell Walker plays Rashawn, an incarcerated woman who haunts Anne throughout the play. Anne visits Rashawn in jail wondering if she did the right thing by removing Rashawn when she was a baby from her crack-addicted mother. Rashawn grows throughout the play and stops blaming everyone else for her choices. Walker tackles this complex character with full emotional conviction. She is both funny and sad which make Rashawn's presence felt by everyone. Jaime Lincoln does a good job playing Chee-Chee's dad with the limited time he has on stage.
So how far would you go to protect a child? If the system's broken, do we continue to subject innocent children to its chaos? If someone “breaks” the law, but is obeying a higher moral code, are they a criminal of hero? Only you can decide and this masterpiece of theater explores, challenges, and provokes us to take some action, whatever we think it should be. Let's hope that this Seed will grow into an abundant tree that will give life to more plays that raise these kind of important, relevant topics that cannot and should not be ignored.