Aziza Barnes’ play opens with a scene of two women having oral sex (loudly heard, but not seen). The major plot element involves a young woman anxiously discovering a mole on her clitoris. And a significant character is not given a name but rather referred to only as “That Bitch on the Couch.”
If all that sounds appealing, then BLKS is for you.
Resembling an African-American variation on HBO’s Girls, the play — receiving its NYC premiere at off-Broadway’s MCC Theater after acclaimed runs at Chicago’s Steppenwolf and Washington, D.C.’s Woolly Mammoth — is decidedly sitcom in its sensibilities. Albeit a sitcom on cable or streaming rather than broadcast, since the humor is in-your-face raunchy from beginning to end. Fortunately, for all its overly calculated provocation, the play is also very, very funny at times, which goes a long way toward making up for its thinness.
Set in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood (Williamsburg is so old hat), the raucous comedy revolves around three twenty-something roommates: Octavia (Paige Gilbert), a budding screenwriter who discovers the aforementioned spot on her nether regions and is having relationship issues with her Latina filmmaker girlfriend Ry (Coral Peña); Imani (Alfie Fuller), an aspiring comedian who has based her routine on Eddie Murphy’s Raw, for deeply personal reasons; and June (Antoinette Crowe-Legacy), an accountant-consultant with a perpetually cheating boyfriend.
On the eve of Octavia’s procedure to have the possibly cancerous mole removed, the three women head out for a drunken night on the town. The evening doesn’t start out well, with June attempting to intervene in a mugging and getting punched in the face for her troubles. Imani hooks up with an upscale white woman (Marie Botha), who watches Imani bomb performing her comedy routine. And June strikes up a flirtation with Justin (Chris Myers) after he gallantly repairs her high heel with Crazy Glue, which he keeps on hand for emergencies.
The action becomes further complicated when Justin follows June home and shows up outside her fire escape window, wanting to know why she told him “I love you” while they were dancing together earlier. June, who’s wearing her old white cotillion dress to comfort herself, reluctantly agrees to let him crash on the living-room couch, where he winds up having a very intimate encounter with Octavia.
Really, though, the plot is beside the point for the play, which is mainly interested in showing its characters drinking, cursing, having sex and attempting to get through an action-packed 24 hours. At times the overly broad humor becomes repetitive, making the evening feel longer than its 90 minutes. But under the energetic direction of Robert O’Hara (the author of such similarly daring works as Bootycandy and Barbecue), BLKS features plenty of laughs, stemming both from the vulgarity-laden dialogue and terrific work from the ensemble, who invest their performances with hysterically funny physicality.
Although all the performers do excellent work, the standouts are Gilbert as the panicked Octavia, and Myers, who charmingly makes the most of the sole male character.
Clint Ramos’ versatile scenic design and the revolving stage give the evening an almost cinematic fluidity. Judging by the alternately rapturous and stone-faced reactions among the audience members, there’s no doubt the play will most appeal to younger theatergoers, and to the young and uninhibited at heart. For these people, there’s plenty of fun to be had at BLKS.
Venue: The Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space, New York
Cast: Marie Botha, Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, Alfie Fuller, Paige Gilbert, Chris Myers, Coral Peña
Playwright: Aziza Barnes
Director: Robert O’Hara
Set designer: Clint Ramos
Costume designer: Dede Ayite
Lighting designer: Alex Jainchill
Sound designer: Palmer Hefferan
Presented by MCC Theater