Christian Alexander is the writer and co-star of this world premiere production from his brand-new company, Campfire Repertory Theatre. James (Keith Ferguson) and Michelle (Ashley Graham) come home after what should be a triumphant night. Michelle has starred in a play and expects James to shower her with praise; what she gets instead is a cold bucket of reality. The young couple, who’ve recently moved to Harlem in the 1920s with big dreams, are at a crossroads. James, an aspiring writer, has been supporting them and neglecting his craft while Michelle has been trying to break through on stage without much luck. Her solution is to follow their Black expatriate heroes like Josephine Baker to Paris, where she believes they’ll be appreciated, while he’s not ready to pick up and leave. Things get more complicated when James sells his first novel, brokered by his best friend, Christopher (Alexander), whose motives are anything but altruistic. Michelle’s best friend, Simone (Laura E. Rojas), is hardly an angel on her shoulder either.
Through 9/4: Thu-Sat 8 PM, Sun 3 PM, Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln, 773-404-7336, greenhousetheater.org, $35-$45 ($25 students with ID at box office only)
For a first effort, Alexander has chosen to dive into the deep end of the pool, but his baby comes out smelling like a rose. He somehow balances marital tensions, racism, artistic ambition, and jealousy in a story that could’ve veered into melodrama and overkill a dozen times over but never does. His talented cast deserves a lot of the credit, but Alexander deserves major kudos for keeping this multileveled ship afloat and not falling back on obvious sentimentality or cheap shock value. I’m excited to see what he writes next.
Introducing his play (directed by Weléla Mar Kindred) before the curtain, Alexander stressed that this is a Black play rather than a Eurocentric one and urged the audience to call out and comment on the action in ways generally frowned upon in traditional theater presentations. And his audience didn’t disappoint. They rooted for James and criticized Michelle one minute, then changed their minds as the couple put each other through torments. Their engagement and participation added to the experience of taking in a production that heralds an exciting new voice on the local scene.