Writer: Kevin R. Free
Director: Nicole A. Watson
Reviewer: Martin Kushner
Night of the Living N-Word!! is a very funny, provocative, at times courageous, and timely comedy, set in the present, in an inherited plantation mansion in the South.
A white liberal woman, Barbara, played with exceptionally calm authority by Eevin Hartsough, has inherited the property from her classically racist parents. She has also defiantly married Ben, a black man played by Kevin R. Free, and they have a son, Channing (Aaron Parker Fouhey), now celebrating his 17th birthday.
As a birthday gift to Channing, Barbara outlaws and ceremoniously “buries” the N-word in the mansion’s graveyard among the plots for family and former plantation slaves. She banishes the term from their home and her family’s vocabulary. What she naively fails to realize is that her son has a black gay lover, and they affectionately call each other “my [N-word]” on their cell phones and in bed.
The six actor ensemble–including a solid Stanley Wayne Mathis as Channing’s grandfather, Romeo Lacandola as Romeo, Channing’s lover, and T. Thompson as Aunt Jinny–performs with passionate, mischievous humor, and is directed loosely, but firmly enough, by Nicole A. Watson. The speedy, intense dialogue is kept, for the most part, severely confrontational and focused.
Slapstick fights, assaults, and pratfalls (coached by Dan Renkin) work well to give both the violence and the constant threat of violence an all-too contemporary immediacy. There are many surprises, relentless twists and turns in the plot, and each is revealed, suddenly or rhythmically, by zinger lines (whoa, ouch, did you hear that?) or timely sound effects.
Though thoroughly entertaining and compelling for the first half of its ninety minute run, Night of the Living N-Word!! suddenly turns serious – too serious, even literal – and loses a lot of its wild energy. Despite the plot revelations and very clever racism interventionsengineered to confront Barbara’s white liberalism, Free’s satirical chops devolve into treatise or lecture, talky and preachy, despite the playwright’s completelyvalid observations and critique of contemporary race/gender relations.
The whimsical cardboard black-and-white cutouts serving as set pieces on the mostly bare stage are designed by Joshua Coakley.
ThisNew York International Fringe Festival production had the audience clapping and cheering loudly at the final curtain. The play’s passion and missionary zeal clearly reflect the recurrent racial and religious bigotry infecting the 2016 political campaigns.
Nevertheless, to this observer, fifteen to twenty minutes of Night of the Living N-Word!!could, and should,be cut, with no sacrifice to the play’s intent. Mr. Free’s plot, characters, humor, and sharp dialogue make their points early on, effectively and hilariously. The playwright and production team can trust the audience to get it, without the need to repeat, overstate, and overemphasize the message.
The very last action in the production, likelyprompted by racially violent events reported daily acrossAmerican cities, feelsredundant. The audience comes very quickly to know the play’s action and intent. They come to bury the N-word, not to praise it.
Runs until 28 August 2016