Reviewed By Nicholas Linnehan
BLACK lives matter! BLACK LIVES matter! BLACK LIVES MATTER! Wake up, America. This message is powerfully conveyed in Anthony P. Pennino’s emotionally charged play, ChokeHold. Produced by Core Creative Productions, this piece strikes many chords in the audience, often at the same time.
What is the best way to affect change? Do we follow in the steps of Martin Luther King Jr. or is a more radical approach needed? A group of ordinary citizens, mostly, African American, form together and arrest Carter; his crime being “excessively white”. The band has determined that the only way to draw attention to the thousands of African Americans victimized by police brutality, is to turn the tables. Enter innocent Carter, the sacrificial lamb. But in order for their plan to work, one of them must commit murder. This is where the conflict really heats up; it is one thing to mentally murder someone, but a much more complex issue to actually do it, especially when they are completely innocent. The majority of the electric drama centers around this do or die situation (pun intended).
The cast is stellar. Each delivers in their respective roles. Maija Juliette Abney is great as the strong-willed leader of the clan. She shows real leadership and her presence on stage is always felt. She commands our attention at every moment. Yet, when we see her vulnerable and beginn to question her motives it is magical. Thomaz Mussnich, as the innocent Carter is captivating to watch. His journey from a man fighting for his life to an empowered human being is alarmingly alluring. Mussnich adds a lot of depth and layers to his role which shows what a fine actor he is. Rokia Shearin adds some nice opposition to the rest of her comrades. Her empathy for Carter is palpable. Her physicality during her monologue seems out of place, but other than that she is equally as strong.
It is hard to watch this play, not because it lacks for talent, but because it is very real and hits home, maybe a little too close for comfort. In fact, we are supposed to be uncomfortable by the issue of police brutality against the African American community. How can be not be stirred into action after sitting through this tension packed piece of theater? How do we change the relationship and brutality between the cops and the African American community? How do we stop the murders of innocent black men by law enforcement? Well, I don’t have the answer anymore than anyone else does. But plays like this, that get at the very heart of the matter, seem like a good place to start.
ChokeHold plqys now through October, 8, 2016 at the 14th Street Y 344 East 14th St