Writer: Darrel Alejandro Holnes
Director: Victoria Collado
Reviewer: Carrie Lee O’Dell
While New York City is slowly reopening, most theatre is still online. The Civilians’ latest offering, Black Feminist Video Game, takes full advantage of its online platform, inviting audiences on to the Twitch stream of teen gamer Jonas Jones, who plays the titular Black feminist video game in hopes of winning back the girl of his dreams. Along the way, he learns a thing or two about feminism, allyship, dating on the autism spectrum, and Audre Lorde. This interactive online play was written by Darrel Alejandro Holnes and directed by Victoria Collado with video game design by Ché Rose, Jocelyn Short, and Erin Sullivan of Cookout Games.
Black Feminist Video Game opens when Jonas Jones (Christon Andell), a biracial neurodivergent teen, logs onto Twitch to talk with his “social fam.” Using flashback videos, he describes meeting and falling for his classmate Nicole (Starr Kirkland). Nicole likes him back, but he alienates her on their first date by paying more attention to the women in the movie they are watching than to the woman he’s on a date with. When she tells him off and leaves, he turns to his friend Sabine (Kyla Jeanne Butts) and to the audience for help. Jonas is convinced that if he wins Black Feminist Video Game, the video game that his mother’s friend Margurite (Mia Y. Anderson) designed in the 1990s, he will come away with a prize that will convince Nicole to come back to him. Jonas and Sabine advance through the levels of the game guided by Margurite and eventually by Black feminist icon Audre Lorde (Brandiss LaShai Seward). As these women guide Jonas through the game, they remind him that Black women are not prizes to win, but autonomous beings who deserve his respect and attention. He recognizes not only the ways he has devalued Nicole, but the ways that he has dismissed Sabine and overlooked the sacrifices his mother, Luna (Constance Fields) has made for him.
This play is lots of fun and it is clear that the talented cast is enjoying themselves. Jonas’s enthusiasm is infectious and Christon Andell plays the character with sensitivity that is immediately endearing. Kyla Jeanne Butts achieves just the right balance of swagger and vulnerability as Sabine and Constance Fields as Luna captures the exhaustion of a single mother balancing work and home life with grace. Cookout Games’ 2D video game is smart and funny, sending Jonas and Sabine through challenges like The Forest of Feminist Angst and an army of white women ready to call the cops over any imagined transgression. Media streaming designer and programmer Julia Frey and her team are to be commended for blending a variety of live and recorded material smoothly.
Darrel Alejandro Holnes’s play is doing a lot of work—it addresses racism, misogyny, heterosexism, and the challenges of living with autism in a world designed for the neurotypical. That is a lot to confront in eighty minutes while also winning a boss battle with a pack of cell-phone wielding Karens and remembering to check in with Mom on the regular. If it feels a little packed at times, that may be part of the point. Intersectionality is busy and full; “ally” is a title that Jonas has to earn rather than give himself. Black Feminist Video Game is not subtle with its messaging; at points, it feels almost heavy-handed. Of course, subtlety will not smash the white supremacist patriarchy any more than, as Audre Lorde tells us, the master’s tools will dismantle the master’s house.
Runs until 9 May 2021 | Photo Credit: The Civilians