Former New York City Mayor David Dinkins used to refer to the city as a gorgeous mosaic. That phrase came to mind for a couple of reasons while I watched “Black and Blue,” an ultimately compelling, up-to-the-minute play about the current tensions between African-Americans and police officers.
“Black and Blue” itself seems pieced together like something of a makeshift mosaic, initially. The 90-minute play begins with sirens and a woman officer sitting on the ground stunned; she has just shot a black man. Passersby, circling the cop in a theatrical way, react with contradictory accounts ( “He didn’t do nothin’”/”He was about to attack that cop”)
The shooting is the catalyst for much of the first half of the play, with scenes of police investigation, public reaction, and a TV reporter’s continuing reports on developments. The scenes are interspersed with Katherine George’s spoken-word poetry recited by individual members of the nine-member cast — 13 poems in all, with titles like “Black IN Blue” (recited by a police officer), “A Panthers Commandments” (recited by a Black Panther),“Black Vs. Blue in 140 Characters or Less,” in which the battle of social media posts by ensemble members holding up picture frames culminates in a cacophony of hectoring voices.
Kevin Demoan Edwards’ script eventually more or less drops the shooting to focus in on two couples. Kristen (Emma Tracy Moore) and Maya (Mildred Victoria) work together as nurses and have become good friends. They would like to bring their husbands together into the friendship. But Kristen’s husband Mike (Chase Burnett) is a (white) cop. Maya’s husband Mark (Ty Gailloux) has joined the Black Lives Matter movement; it was his cousin who was shot dead by the woman police officer. The second half of the play revolves around the wariness of the two men, their evolving relationship, and their complex and contentious interaction with each other’s circle of acquaintances.
Their friendship has its ups and downs. At one point they confront one another, Mike the cop telling Mark that he puts himself in danger every day that he works. “I’m sorry your cousin’s dead. But that officer thought her life was in danger so she pulled the trigger, plain and simple. Now we all have targets on our backs.”
Mark replies: “I was born with a target on my back…At the end of the day, you get to come home and take (your uniform) off….I have no choice whether or not I want to deal with the consequences of being black in white America.”
The story takes a melodramatic turn that comes out of nowhere and feels imposed by the authors. Then they tack on a hopeful ending – which is the second way that this play recalls the “gorgeous mosaic”; some felt the positive implication of the slogan was wishful thinking during a time of violence and racial tension.
Still, “Black and Blue” has two strengths that make it worthwhile. First, there is a real effort to give voice to the various, conflicting points of view. The police aren’t stick figures. Second, the four principal actors, under the direction of Arielle Sosland, make their characters credible. There is a terrific scene filled with awkward silences when the wives leave the two men alone for the first time. At another point, after Maya tells Kristen that she’s pregnant, showing her the pregnancy stick, Kristen takes a picture of it with her cell phone. There is more than one way that “Black and Blue” effectively captures current events.
“Black and Blue”
The Steve & Marie Sgouros Theatre
Remaining show time