Last week I did something I do only a few times each year – I, a Brooklyn resident, went to Harlem, and for a great reason. A play called SEED is hosting preview performances at the Classical Theatre of Harlem through the Hip-Hop Theater Festival and promising myself that I wouldn’t shun arty fun because of an unattractive commute, I boarded the A train for 125th Street.
Written by Radha Blank and directed by Niegel Smith, SEED follows Ann Colleen Simpson, a burnt out social worker who is days away from retirement when she meets a pre-teen named Chee-Chee.
Seeing that the boy is exceptionally intelligent, Ann tutors him and ends up going against much of what her training and his mother tell her to make a decision that will change both of their lives. That’s right, Ms. Ann goes “balls out.” Yes, I used the term “balls out” and you’ll see why.
Bridgit Antoinette Evans, who portrays Ann, nails the weary, pesky and determined public worker who has seen too much and learned to live with it. On the other hand, Jocelyn Bioh, who plays Chee-Chee’s mother Latonya, played her Harlem native role so well I wanted to slap her like those “All My Children” fans who used to attack Susan Lucci because Erica Kane was such a hussy. She gives the quintessential angry black woman but with reason and that’s why SEED was worth my trip uptown. Each of the characters are muti-faceted. Sure I wanted to cut Chee-Chee’s mom, but the audience learns why she’s so mad. Ms. Ann isn’t just some nice social worker trying to help, we learn that she’s still battling her own demons after loosing one of her cases, Rashawn played by Pernell Walker, to the flawed American child protection agency. Born to a crack addict, Rashawn ultimately ends up in jail and becomes an unexpected advisor to her former social worker. Chee-Chee, played by Diop, is also really fun to watch, managing to play a gifted but embattled child stuck between his mother and a hard place.
The stage arrangement for SEED was completely engaging. Instead of the typical “I am on an elevated stage and you’re watching me from below” set-up, the Theatre of Harlem erected risers and the actors performed on the floor, in front of a large film screen, illustrating the different scenes. The actors used all of the room’s nooks and crannies to tell their story, which incorporated spoken word akin to In The Heights and with just as much fluidity.
Obviously, I loved this play — and not just because I am the child of a social worker who remembers trying to get ice cream with my Mom on her day off but couldn’t because she was chatting up the kid with the welts on his arms in front of the softee truck. A great play takes the audience through a range of emotions making you care about the characters and SEED did just that. I’m not even mad that it took me an hour and change to get back to Brooklyn.
SEED runs from September 6 to October 9.