BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
Now in its 34th year, Soho Rep has a well-deserved reputation for staging adventurous new works that many theaters are scared to touch, such as Sarah Kane’s apocalyptic drama “Blasted.”
The company now offers the U.S. premiere of “Born Bad,” a drama from England by playwright debbie tucker green that regards a modern-day black family’s festering secrets.
Opening last week at Soho Rep’s intimate performance space in Lower Manhattan, “Born Bad” is brief in hour-long length, stylized in form, strong in emotion and wonderfully subtle in language.
The initial sight of chairs overturned in a genteel room suggests domestic turmoil.
The next dozen scenes observe Dawta (Heather Alicia Simms) as she belligerently questions her mother, sisters and brother about something that went on in their household years before. They are evasive or resistant or defiant.
Their recall is hazy or faulty: “The bits about you and some bits about her and the bit about it that it weren’t me,” says someone in a typical sample of the playwright’s fragmented style of conversation.
The neatly dressed Dad (Michael Rogers) is a prominent figure in the room, but usually pays them little attention and actually speaks only once.
It’s fairly obvious what horror Dawta burns to uncover, but that awareness allows you to appreciate instead the subtleties in speech, mood, characters and relationships that the story and play provide. From the accents, the family seems to be from the West Indies, which lends musicality to their words.
Soho Rep does beautifully by this challenging drama. Director Leah C. Gardiner ably navigates the tricky play’s changing rhythms and deceptively stark language while arranging her excellent actors — and those chairs — into meaningful configurations.
The scowling Simms is an implacable seeker of truth. Elain Graham’s churchy Mum weeps eloquently. Sweet-voiced Quincy Tyler Bernstine gracefully depicts the reticent, stylish sister whose poise contrasts against the mocking, street-wise, baby sister depicted by Crystal A. Dickinson. A clean-cut LeRoy James McClain is their uptight brother who helplessly observes everyone’s pain and then admits to his own.
The designers create an effective world for the play. Mimi Lien’s austere parlor set suggests the family’s comfortable status. Paul Tazewell dresses the actors with a keen eye towards their characters. Michael Chybowski’s lighting design provides sharp black-outs for the episodes and a shadowy sense of mystery.
“Born Bad” continues thru April 24 at Soho Rep, 46 Walker St., New York. Call (212) 352-3101 or visit www.sohorep.org.