By Sheri Berger
Nebraska Repertory Theatre, Wednesday, November 10th, 7:30PM.
Our journey with the Nebraska Repertory Theatre takes us to Dontrell Who Kissed The Sea, written by Nathan Alan Davis and directed by St. Louis Black Repertory Company Founder, Ron Himes.
Dontrell is a straight-A student. In just three weeks he is set to be at John Hopkins University on a full-ride scholarship. I admired his geeky-smart habit of recording his thoughts on a hand-held recorder in Star Trek-like logging style, with an almost Neil deGrasse Tyson flavor. Olajuwon Davis is a perfect fit for this role. He began working with Himes in the 2008 production of Sarafina. Davis was also part of the award-winning independent film Palacious, written and directed by Sundance Festival Alum, Robert “Bobby” Herrera of Gray Picture.
This dream-like coming of age story has powerful symbolism and stories. As in many cultures and religions, the oral tradition of telling a story and acknowledging your ancestors is a necessary rite into adulthood and enlightenment for our characters. Dontrell’s connection with his family, who all are doing their part to guide and support him in this world, extends to his ancestors who come to him in dreams and continue to surround him with their protecting presence. They are also a continual presence during the play, talking as a collective choir of one as they narrate the scenes. Dontrell is being called to find himself, specifically through this connection to his ancestors, in order to figure out where he came from, and from whom.
Dontrell continually experiences the phenomenon of vivid dreams, though he doesn’t usually remember them. The dreams contain powerful symbolism which predict the events of his journey later on in the play. He also sees a man with a woman on a ship who looks exactly like his father. It is a slave ship taking the couple from Africa to the Americas. The woman has conceived a child and goes on to America, but the man jumps from the ship to his death rather than be taken as a slave. It is to this point in the sea to which Dontrell is called. In the course of the play he comes to find that every man in his family has been called to the scene of this event, which was a real and common occurrence in those days. Dontrell learns that his grandfather tried to make the journey but was considered insane and was committed. Dontrell’s father struggled against the call, choosing to drown it out rather than answer it.
Ka’ramuu Kush, who plays Dontrell’s father, has a powerful voice and presence in the play and left me wishing there were even more scenes with the character. Kush is an accomplished theatre actor, director, and writer, and is one of the three professional actors in this play.
A lifeguard and swim teacher, played by Claire McClannon, rescues Dontrell when he tries to swim for the first time. As she saves his life and Dontrell sees her for the first time, the ancestors who surround him all exclaim “uh oh!” in unison: Dontrell has found his soulmate.
LaKesha Glover, who plays Dontrell’s Mom is captivating. She is also an accomplished actor, who has a long list credits with the St. Louis Repertory Company as well as film and tv. Dontrell’s Mom, along with his bothersome sister Danielle, played by UNL Junior Lucia Graff, and his wise cousin, played by UNL Junior Brannon Evans, form a powerful protective trio of women in Dontrell’s life. In many ways their relationship with him is the very core of this play. His mother is rightfully angry that Dontrell chooses to waive college for his excursion to the sea and feels thwarted after her hard work to get him through school and off into successful adulthood. After a heated argument, Dontrell has had it with his mother. His father supports his mother’s anger and fear for his son’s future. In a heart-to-heart conversation with Dontrell he tells him that “Mothers are always on guard,” and “I want Warrior Women standing over you.”
Dontrell’s hip hop-loving best friend from childhood is Robby, played by Mekhi Mitchell. Robby likes to write his own rap songs while in his car, and his hilarious banter with Danielle, and also Dontrell, provided fun comic relief.
The vivid costumes and rhythmic dance and music worked together to make this a stunning production, and I found myself wanting to see even more of the finely choreographed scenes, which are the skillful handiwork of accomplished Choreographer Heather Beal, and Costume Designer Daryl Harris.
The lighting, sound, and scenic design knit this production together to make it complete. It is a reminder of how much technology has to offer theatre, with less scene changes, and the ability to give the audience a realistic view and feel of water, stars, and the night sky. Water is almost an additional character, signifying journey, feelings, relationships, the baptism into finding oneself, and ultimately a call. This effect was created by the skillful handiwork of Margery and Peter Spack, Scenic Video Designers; Aja M. Jackson, Lighting Designer; Jacki “Jackpot” Sharp, Sound Designer and Music Director, and Emma Laine Hoffbauer, Scenic Designer. With Faculty Mentors, JD Madsen, Michelle Harvey, Jamie Bullins and Bryce Dale Allen.
Additionally behind the scenes were Production Stage Manager, Brad Buffum, Stage Manager, Kayci Johnston. Production Manager Bryce Dale Allen, Technical Director Joseph Shelly Jr, and Asst. Technical Director Brad Lamontte.
This is a thoughtful play that challenges every person to figure out who they are, know where they came from, and to do what is true to their journey regardless of the life-track where they find themselves. Dontrell discovers that acknowledging and evoking his African ancestors, while respecting his present-day family, is a powerful force for becoming complete. After the play I was concerned that no review could do proper justice to the experience, so I suggest you see this beautiful production for yourself. It leaves the viewer reflective, and empowered to follow their passion, and as Dontrell’s cousin Shea counsels, “not question what you know to be true.”
You won’t want to miss this absolute must-see, stunning play of hope, family, perseverance, and love. #realchange
If you go: Performances run November 10-21, Wed-Sat 7:30PM and Sundays at 2PM. Tickets can be purchased online at https://nebraskarep.org.
Sheri Berger is a business minion, dog momma, arts groupie, and co-host of the Platte River Bard Podcast with her husband, Chris Berger
The St. Louis Black Repertory Company are Professionals in Residence at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AEA actors appear in this production through an agreement between this theatre, Nebraska Repertory Theatre, and the Actors’ Equity Association, which is the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.
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