Review: BLKS at Steppenwolf

Review: BLKS at Steppenwolf

(L to R) Leea Ayes, Celeste M. Cooper, and Nora Carroll. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

By Sheri Flanders

The stage of BLKS is vaguely reminiscent of an aquarium; a pink and turquoise cacophony of colored couches, overstuffed pillows and drapes hanging from the ceiling, video projected across the scene. And like an aquarium, it is the audience’s fish-eye lens into the daily world of black women: riotously hilarious, vulnerable, beautiful and unedited.

Playwright Aziza Barnes and director Nataki Garrett treat us to a jubilant peek into a world that many of us know very well and some of us may not know at all. From the first scene we are immersed in the lives of four black women simply living – a buoyant and electric Octavia (Nora Carroll) waking up from a morning snuggle with her partner, blearily making her way to the toilet for a morning pee, struggling to make the best of the curveballs that life throws her way. After all, she says “If you can’t day drink the day you get a clit mole, when can you day drink?”

Danielle Davis is a fantastic actress who grounds this ribald comedy as Ry, Octavia’s level-headed better half, fighting to keep her self-respect in a relationship still too new for definitions. Roommates Celeste (Imani), a plucky aspiring stand up and June (Leea Ayers), spunky, smart and bougie, round out this Sex and the City household, swimming in and out of focus in their search for love, stability and cunnilingus.

BLKS is one of those plays where both everything and nothing happens. Other than a few moments of on-the-nose dialogue, the play succeeds at giving depth through a slice-of-life storytelling style. Crisp silly banter keeps the pace moving at a good clip even as we leisurely wander through the highs and lows of life with these lost souls. As June nurses her wounds wearing a cotillion gown, we are confronted with the question: do we as black women get a Cinderella story? Hell, can we even simply have one night out on the town without reality puncturing the illusion for a few precious hours?

Well, this is America, so the answer, of course, is no. An attempt at romance is complicated by the ignorance of a white paramour. A girl’s night out is interrupted with a harrowing, yet tragically pedestrian, moment of violence. A casual conversation is punctuated by the latest police murder trending on social media, which turns out to be Eric Garner, wretchedly fixing this tale in time.

Yet in typical black woman fashion, these women pick themselves up and soldier on. The beauty of BLKS is that their process of carrying on isn’t painted as noble and sanitized. We see the toll register, scars on top of scars, yet then the return to joy, swimming to the surface to break the water and gasp a lungful of happiness if only for a moment.

BLKS is a wickedly funny romp that places the audience as wingwoman to the lives four vibrant black women, navigating love and work in New York. This powerhouse cast treats you to a delicious tale of black women living in joy and humor rarely seen onstage. BLKS is highly recommended —  you will regret missing this performance.

BLKS runs through January 28 at Steppenwolf Theater.

About author

Sheri Flanders

Sheri Flanders is an actor, writer and comedian in Chicago. She is head writer for Choice The Musical, half of the comedy duo Flanders and part of the Infinite Sundaes musical house ensemble. Sheri is a contributor for Chicagoland Musical Theater, a faculty member of the Second City music program and co-owner of Flanders Consulting.