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written and directed by Zora Howard
Flea Theatre, 20 Thomas St., NYC.
March 15- April 3, 2023.
Tickets and info: https://theflea.org/shows/hang-time.
Dion Graham, Cecil Blutcher, Akron Watson. Photo by Maria Baranova.
On the wisp of a play, writer-director Zora Howard (“Stew,” Pulitzer Prize finalist) has created a powerfully evocative performance piece about three black men chewing the fat, just hanging out and passing time. Or maybe not. Maybe these men were executed for unmentioned crimes. Maybe lynched. The shadows they cast (Reza Behjat, light design) are hanged men. The elusiveness of the work, the many allusions – sometimes as subtle as bird song or a train whistle (Megan Culley, sound design), sometimes as disturbing as the actors’ feet inches above the ground or their persistent twitching and oddly angled joints (Charlie Oates, movement director) – place them as conglomerates of rural black experience.
The men are so alive, so real. Slim (Akron Watson, “The Color Purple”) with his rich tenor even breaks into the blues. The play opens with longing, the men gawking at a beautiful woman passing by. Slim and Bird (Dion Graham, “The Wire”) talk about love. Bird, the elder and the most laconic, once walked hundreds of miles to return to a woman, but she had found another man. It’s a dark and lonely way, he says, walking without God. It’s a dark and lonely way, says Slim, walking with him too. Slim had spent time in a prison cell with no window and was allowed one hour of sunshine a day. But those hours didn’t make up for all that darkness. He confesses to slitting a man from nose to navel because he found him in bed with the woman he loved. Blood (Cecil Blutcher, “The Hot Wing King”) the youngest but a first son, shoulders the economic weight of family. He dreams of buying a boat. The other men have never seen the ocean, but they know he shouldn’t abandon his girlfriend’s child.
The three stand on a raised platform, each invisibly harnessed to a pole. At times the floor is lowered so that the feet of the men dangle in the air. .
“Hang Time” is filled with the magic of theatre, capturing the imagination. Beautiful pacing and choreographed body movements. Stellar performances. Directors like Zora Howard are rare – and wonderful. This is her directing debut.
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