“I always wanted to be a headliner, not a headline,” says the first dead black man in “Black Magic.”
“I’m sorry I got hit with more bullets than birthdays,” says another to his (unseen) mother.
But if there is rage and sorrow in these characters’ stories, the 40 minutes of “Black Magic” are also filled with joy and humor, music and song, thrilling movement and pithy poetry, syncopated stomping and rhythmic clapping, and even some red-nose clowning – but clowning with an edge. Written and directed by undergraduates, the production is remarkably polished. It is, in short, ideal for the New York International Fringe Festival– which is to say, it is a work that might not fit in anywhere else, but certainly deserves to be seen.
Written and co-directed by Tony Jenkins, who is a senior at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, the show features Jenkins and six other young black men in bare feet, wearing only simple black clothing. Inspired by Ntozake Shange’s “choreopoem” – a word she coined to describe her 1976 theater piece “for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf” – “Black Magic” features a series of spoken-word poems by characters who have no straightforward narratives. Rather, they carry only the most oblique suggestions of biography. These are poems, not monologues. But they are powerfully delivered.
At one point performers Evan Reiser and Aaron Marshall-Bobb stand up together
“There were days when waking up black was just too much,” says Reiser.
“There were days when waking up black and gay was just too much,” says Marshall-Bobb
“I forgot I was prey,” says Marshall-Bobb.
“I forgot how to pray,” says Evan Reiser.
As worthwhile as Jenkins’ poetry is, what makes “Black Magic” so exhilarating is the choreography by co-director Chessa Metz, with assistance from the cast. If the dancing sometimes looks more like theater games, so be it: These are performers who know how to move.
“Black Magic” is the first of 24 shows in this year’s Fringe that are categorized as reflecting the African-American experience, at least a half dozen involving violence and/or interaction between the community and the police. This is an unusually high number for the Fringe, and, based on “Black Magic” alone, long overdue.
Remaining show times: