Playwright and MPAACT founding member Shepsu Aakhu was inspired to write this campus sexual assault drama by a conversation initiated by one of his two college-aged sons, “two Black males living a life completely free from my daily protection.” The fear he has on behalf of his family is palpable and, regrettably, well-sourced—conversations about the prevalence of misogyny and assault on universities often sidestep the reality that young Black men in this country still live under an unjust cloud of suspicion. And yet, as justified as Aakhu’s anxiety is, the politics and attitudes behind Spoken Word are virtually indistinguishable from those found on men’s rights forum comment sections, amounting to a panicked screed against the very idea of verbal consent.
If that reads as loaded or unfair, consider the plot here: Izzy (Jelani Pitcher) and Paris (Nadia Pillay), two young adults—kids, really—have a clumsy but ultimately consensual (if nonverbal) attempt at sex. Misinterpreting her roommate’s caginess about that night, a white SJW caricature (seemingly inked by alt-right favorite Ben Garrison) puts Izzy on social media blast, making him a pariah on campus.
After days of silence, Paris—hand in hand with Izzy—notifies the college administration that no assault occurred, but a cartoonishly villainous administrator admonishes them both and insists the young man face consequences despite the supposed victim clearly stating no wrongdoing occured—because the word “yes,” this play’s other antagonist, wasn’t spoken. Director Lauren “LL” Lundy’s production features some strong performances, particularly by Veronda G. Carey as a dean (who sees no conflict of interest in sitting on the board overseeing her son’s case), but the script’s improbabilities cast an ugly pall over the whole affair. v