As wisdom passed from Women’s Liberation Movement to glib turn of phrase instructs us, the personal is political. For the weary activist of Dominique Morisseau’s new play, however, the political has come at the expense of the personal, a tension between people and principles that is at the scarred heart of this complex piece. Seeking out his estranged daughter Nina, now hustling on the streets of New York with self-styled survivor Damon, former Black Revolutionary Kenyatta is forced to confront the personal revolution that he disastrously failed to ignite.
Positioning itself as political debate roughly clothed in the domestic, this production straddles the two camps with occasional discomfort. There is something stylishly, self-consciously gritty about Charlotte Westenra’s punchy direction paired with Francesca Reidy’s scruffily naturalistic set, all concrete and clenched fists. But beneath this rough exterior, the piece slips in eloquent reflections on power, activism and social justice – so eloquent, in fact, that the characters speaking them can sometimes feel like little more than mouthpieces.
Positioning itself as political debate roughly clothed in the domestic, this production straddles the two camps with occasional discomfort.
At the same time, reflecting the inner conflict of Ben Onwukwe’s anguished Kenyatta, there is an intensely human element to Morisseau’s tale. Possibly its most interesting facet is the way in which it deals with the individual legacy of movements such as that to which Kenyatta has dedicated his life, asking what these principles are worth if they ignore love. Treading the line between political meditation and family drama, not quite one or the other, the production works hard at both and almost succeeds.
But when distilled down to the most individual level, politically motivated actions seem futile from all angles. Damon’s choice, to eschew corrupt governmental systems by earning a living through illegal activities, displays distorted logic at best, while the route pursued Kenyatta betrays the very individuals it is fighting for. Revolutions may be emotional as well as political, but this ultimately leaves the politics somewhat stranded.