A powerful, challenging new play “but i cd only whisper” is receiving its American premiere at the Flea Theater through March 11.
Inspired by the great Ntozake Shange’s combinations of theater and poetry, Kristiana Rae Colon presents the tragic story of Vietnam veteran Beau Willie Brown (Toussaint Jeanlouis) through a collage of scenes, monologues, and poems.
Brown is haunted by the violence and racism of his time spent in Vietnam and it infuses his troubled relationships with two women – Crystal (Kineta Kunutu), the mother of his children; and Genevieve (Crystal Arnette), whose bi-racial affair with Beau adds to the man’s seething internal conflicts.
Colon and director David Monteagudo present the material impressionistically, shifting back and forth in time, always circling around to Beau’s sessions with a psychiatrist who will determine if an insanity defense can be claimed in a terrible crime that is only slowly revealed to the audience.
“but i cd only whisper” might frustrate theatergoers who look for a clear-cut beginning, middle and end when they see a play, but Colon’s approach seems true to Beau’s situation and his state of mind.
“but i cd only whisper’ puts tremendous pressure on Toussaint Jeanlouis who spends much of the play in extreme emotional agitation as Beau tries to make sense out of the wreckage of his life. The actor, quite simply, terrific, rising to the challenge of a very demanding role.
In the course of telling her intense story, Colon also looks at the way that poor African-American young men are seduced into military service that can seem like their only way out of inner city economic hopelessness.
The entire cast is made up of the Flea’s extraordinary resident company, The Bats, who never cease to amaze me with their talent and commitment.
“but I cd only whisper” is being presented in the theater’s ultra-intimate downstairs space – in which no audience member is more than two rows from the action – adding to the power of this special experience.
(For more information, visit www.theflea.org)