One woman, many characters 

click to enlarge Dark side: In her new solo show premiering at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, writer-actor Dael Orlandersmith deftly portrays boys and men who have been abused. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Dark side: In her new solo show premiering at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, writer-actor Dael Orlandersmith deftly portrays boys and men who have been abused.

Flaco, a Puerto Rican kid in New York, was molested by his psychotic mother, but no one believed him when he told them.

Larry, a groundskeeper in Central Park, watches for years as an upper-middle-class father and older brother bully the younger brother, trying to make him “act like a man.”

Ian, a New Yorker from Manchester, England, was so severely abused in his youth, physically and emotionally, by his alcoholic Irish father that he can’t contain his inner rage.

Timmy, a preteen in the South Bronx, was criminally neglected by his junkie mother.

Incarcerated Uncle Tenny is a pedophile who molested his own nephew and is (confusingly) both regretful but also defensive, NAMBLA-style.

Mike, who’s African-American, watched violent fights between his parents but retreated to his Brooklyn-tenement bedroom to read Dickens.

These are the disparate characters who tell their stories in Dael Orlandersmith’s new solo show, “Black n Blue Boys/Broken Men,” world-premiering at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, and co-commissioned and co-produced with Chicago’s Goodman Theatre.

Key word here: Tell.

Orlandersmith’s boys and men relate the painful events of their childhoods, sometimes in excruciating detail.

A few characters — but, again, confusingly, not all of them — reappear to let us know how their lives progressed. Inescapably, the effects of childhood trauma linger, and it takes inner fortitude to plough through to a meaningful adulthood, as Flaco exhorts at the end.

The problem, though, is that the script really is all telling and not much showing. Too often it even tells us what to feel. We’re bombarded with multiple characters, and the facts of their troubled lives (although Uncle Tenny’s story doesn’t fit in, and Larry’s is fleeting), but never did I feel for them on a profound level.

There’s an artificiality, even sometimes a maudlin aspect, to their tales.

Would children really have the perspective, the words, the emotional maturity, to express themselves the way some of the youngsters do?

But the playwright’s acting, under Chay Yew’s beautifully orchestrated direction, is superb; she easily inhabits these varied males, taking on accents, vocal timbres and physicalities that are transformative.

Orlandersmith’s aim, in providing a theatrical voice for many such men in our society, is admirable, as is her willingness to go to the dark side. But she needs to narrow her focus to just a few of these poignant stories, dig deeper into each one and allow her characters to evolve in more organic and authentic ways.


Black n Blue Boys/Broken Men

Presented by Berkeley Repertory Theatre

Where: 2025 Addison St., Berkeley

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays-Fridays, 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes June 24

Tickets: $14.50 to $73

Contact: (510) 647-2949,

About The Author

Jean Schiffman

Jean Schiffman

Jean Schiffman is a freelance arts writer specializing in theatre. Some of her short stories and personal essays have been published in newspapers and small literary magazines. She is an occasional book copy editor and also has a background in stage acting. Her book “The Working Actor’s Toolkit” was published... more
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