Forever–a new solo show now playing at New York Theatre Workshop through May 31–is a simple, emotional journey through the eyes of one woman—starring one woman. Dael Orlandersmith, a Pulitzer Prize finalist and acclaimed dramatist, is a powerhouse as both a writer and an actor, bringing passionate life to her words and emotions.
Her monologue charts an imaginative pre-teen girl growing up in Harlem with an alcoholic mother, whom we later learn was an aspiring dancer. In order to escape physical abuse and disparaging taunts from the woman who gave birth to her, a young Orlandersmith finds solace in rockers such as The Doors, The Who, The Rolling Stones, and more. She spills her narrative through a series of anecdotes which detail her unhappy childhood, notably a brutal sexual assault by one of her mother’s revolving door of men, and constant, eventual longing to head to Paris, where pop icon Jim Morrison is buried.
Much like getting to know a stranger, Forever is confusing at first. We initially don’t know why, for example, Orlandersmith doesn’t like to be touched or why her imagination takes her to such a far away place but as we learn more about her, we come to understand her. We’re essentially getting to know a friend over years, only this is taking place in a contained space of 90 minutes.
Under dim lighting, Orlandersmith is brave and vulnerable while unveiling her innermost thoughts before a room of outsiders. The scenic design is minimal, furnished only with a table, two chairs, a candle, a record player and photos of her family posted on the surrounding walls. And her dialogue is poetic, suggesting to an audience a smoky coffeehouse where we snap our fingers, rather than a darkened theatre downtown. “I know she is dead / I saw her / She is dead / I believe it / I know it / I don’t believe it / I don’t know it,” she recites, detailing how she felt when her mother eventually died many years after the childhood events took place.
The lesson learned is that you can never truly choose the family you are given, and while you might feel like an alien within one, they are always a part of you. The author finds solace in this, finishing the production by saying “she is with me” over and over again. The play’s haunting conclusion saves a rough beginning, where the stories have little hold because we have yet to discover their significance. While the beginning might seem like forever, the play eventually takes shape as her childhood trauma hits us full force with the harrowing specifics of her assault. Orlandersmith’s one act is an uninterrupted purge of emotions that will certainly leave you exhausted when it’s over, but in the end, you’ll glad you took the journey. B