Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea. It was by Nathan Alan Davis and it was directed by Chika Ike. It was about a young man named Dontrell (Jalen Gilbert), who was about to go to college, and he had had a dream about his ancestor on a slave ship and he wanted to go and make contact with his spirit. This has become a pattern in his family; his grandfather had been put in an asylum for trying to steal a fisherman's boat to go and try and connect with his ancestor's spirit in the water. Dontrell's family is not very supportive about his dream because they are worried that what happened with his grandpa will happen with him. So he tries to learn to swim, but almost drowns and gets rescued by a lifeguard, Erika (Kayla Raelle Holder), who agrees to help him learn how to swim. They form a very deep connection. It is about being connected with your ancestry, family, and hope for the future. I think this is a really poetic and beautiful show. It had really beautiful visual aspects and great acting.
I really liked the concept of the show. I think it is a really cool melding of poetry and realism. When you walk in, there are symbols all over the wall (scenic design by Eleanor Kahn), different levels, a doorway, and they put up sails halfway through the show. And the light (design by Rachel Levy) was blue and everything seemed fluid. So you have a feeling that the show will be a hero's journey at sea, and at first it is really stylized. There is a lot of movement (choreographed by Breon Arzell) and it is really beautiful. But then it is not a ship in the middle of nowhere or a island or any of the things you think the story you are expecting would entail. It is somebody waking up from a dream and recording their thoughts on a tape recorder, then his sister coming in and telling him to come down for breakfast. It is just a very normal thing. There is also a lot of poetry and realism in the romantic relationship between Dontrell and Erika. They have this poetic relationship where they immediately trust each other and say a lot of really big things in the first day, but they also seem like real people falling in love. They are feeling things that make sense for people falling in love, but it seems to be sped up. I think the writer is using poetry to show real things, real problems, and real stages in life. Instead of searching for his ancestry online or with a DNA test, Dontrell has to actually get a girlfriend, get a boat, and go on a journey to find where he comes from.
There is a scene where Dontrell's Mom (Shariba Rivers) is trying to throw a fake party for Dontrell so he will come home and she can confront him about the scuba gear that she found. Then everything gets out of hand, but in the midst of the craziness, you get to learn a lot about the characters. A lot of really true things are said. Dontrell's mom yells at him because she is scared he is going to get hurt if he goes scuba diving, but more she is afraid that he will not be able to fulfill his potential. For the party Danielle (Destinty Strothers), Dontrell's sister, has made a mermaid cake. And I was trying to think about what that meant. I think that it might be that Dontrell can't just be where he is at the moment. He is half going to college and half going to sea. He is half and half, like a mermaid. Everyone wants a piece of the cake, even before Dontrell arrives. The Dad (Brian Nelson, Jr.) just walks in and despite Danielle's best efforts, takes a piece of cake. It shows that he is in his own little world a lot of the time. He doesn't seem to always pay attention to the things around him. He doesn't seem to look people in the eye; he even argues with his wife from the other room instead of talking to her face to face. The only time he really seems to engage with someone is when he talks to Dontrell about how they call women "bitches," but they are just strong women and men are too scared to admit it. I think that was a really true speech and it was really cool to see how the Dad altered between when he really didn't care about something to when he was talking about something he believed in.
People who would like this show are people who like poetic solutions to real problems, mermaid cake, and awkward prayers. I think that people should definitely, definitely go see this show. It is a really fascinating and beautiful story. I loved it.
Photos: Evan Hanover