Reviews

The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World *** 1/2

By:  Isa Goldberg

It’s not entirely clear what Suzan-Lori Parks, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright is
up to in her phantasmagoria at The Signature Theatre, Off Broadway. Written in
1990, it still makes for a captivating 70-minutes of theater.

Patrena_Murray__Jamar_Williams__Daniel_J__Watts__Reynaldo_Piniella__David_Ryan_SmithMARCUSPatrena Murray, Jamar Williams, Daniel J. Watts, Reynaldo Puneulla, David Ryan Smith

By:  Isa Goldberg

It’s not entirely clear what Suzan-Lori Parks, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright is
up to in her phantasmagoria at The Signature Theatre, Off Broadway. Written in
1990, it still makes for a captivating 70-minutes of theater.

Patrena_Murray__Jamar_Williams__Daniel_J__Watts__Reynaldo_Piniella__David_Ryan_SmithMARCUSPatrena Murray, Jamar Williams, Daniel J. Watts, Reynaldo Puneulla, David Ryan Smith


A cacophony of characters, ranging from Prunes and Prisms (Mirirai Sithole), who
only says those very words, and in the strictly affected manner described in
Dickens’ novel,
Little Dorrit; Voice on Thuh Tee V (William Demeritt),
who looks and speaks like a TV reporter, and Quen-Then-Pharaoh Hatshepsut
(Amelia Workman), among several others. Black Man With Watermelon, the central
character is powerfully portrayed by Daniel J. Watts.

Together these characters, brilliantly costumed unto their iconic natures by Montana
Blanco, create a vivid ensemble. Dancing around Riccardo Hernandez’s set, an
electric chair, a long extended dead limb, and a rope for hanging, they evoke a
panorama of choreographic styles from the minstrel show to pharaonic dance. 

At one point, they are encouraged to put the chair in the middle of the city so people
can come to watch with their picnic baskets. Raja Feather Kelly’s choreography
creates a wonderful sense of movement and action on the stage, in spite of the
underlying outrage.

That they are desperate to bring attention to their situation explains Prunes and Prisms
prim and proper speech, and the need for Voice on Thuh Tee V’s pronouncements.
Driven by the fear that the past will be erased and history distorted, they
decide to document their lives, but even then they realize the document may not
survive, and in the future, people will not be aware that the black race ever existed.

Accompanied by outrageous sound effects (Palmer Hefferan), and projections (Hannah
Wasileski) of video static that grow into thundering drums, the Black Man With
Watermelon is lynched. He is joined, ceremoniously, by several other watermelon
bearing Blacks.

Passionately and energetically directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz, Parks’ black comedy show us lies that parade as truths, and the lives that are usurped by those lies.

The Death of the Last Black Man in America
 is now playing at Signature’s Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theater, 480 West 42 Street through December 18, 2016. Photo: Joan Marcus

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