THEATER REVIEW: ‘BROKEN Code BIRD Switching’ at the Unicorn Theater in Stockbridge

Justin Sturgis as Deshawn. Photo by Jacey Rae Russell.

BROKEN code BIRD switch
Berkshire Theater Company
Unicorn Theater in Stockbridge, Massachusetts
Screenplay by Tara L. Wilson Noth, directed by Kimille Howard

“Crying is a liberation…”

Olivia Bennett is a happily married woman, a lawyer whose work is seldom antagonistic, seldom combative. She is happily married to another attorney, Mark Bennett. Their marriage seems ideal; They are loving, affectionate, on the same page when it comes to music and books and pretty much everything else. They disagree on one thing, though they rarely dwell on it. You lost a child in infancy. Olivia never got over that loss, while Mark seemingly let it go. This issue ultimately separates them and not their affairs with other people. This is one of the anomalies in a new play having its world premiere at The Berkshire Theater Group’s Unicorn Theater in Stockbridge, MA. who is accused of murder and will not defend himself or fight against the system that slanders black people.

DeAnna Supplee as Olivia, Torsten Johnson as Mark. Photo by Jacey Rae Russell.

What happens to them in the next two hours and ten minutes is the dream of a lifetime. Weeks pass as Olivia and her client argue. He’s half her age, only 15, but his automatic reactions to everything she has to offer quickly become stale, and she’s faced with a blank page with nothing written on it. Justin Sturgis plays Deshawn. As a scene partner, he is terrific. He’s hiding something from her, it becomes clear, and when he finally opens up and confesses the truth to Olivia, it’s a highly dynamic scene, a worthy goal for an actor. Sturgis plays the moment with absolute brilliance, and it’s devastating to watch and hear. This is a young actor of power and dimension who has a good, nay, very good chance of a strong career, and we see him first, which is an unexpected tidbit.

Deshawn has befriended a photographer who offers support and encouragement to both the boy and his attorney, Olivia. This bringer of faith, Porter, brings almost true joy to both of them, and Olivia embraces the romance of such a friendship. Porter, played by Jahi Kearse, is as real an enemy as one could ask for in a play of this magnitude. Which brings me to the piece itself.

Tara L. Wilson Noth has written a new classic. It’s confusing at first, but slowly reveals the mysteries behind the woman in a bathrobe wandering the city streets. What seems like a dream becomes the ultimate reality as the truths of her existence begin to resonate, replacing Olivia’s previous reality with the romantic aspects of the story. Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman takes it upon himself to show us just moments behind his decision-making. Olivia shows a whirlwind of moments to get to her. This piece has legs. It also has hands and limbs and mind. It’s a privilege to see it.

Also joining the cast are Rebecca L. Hargrove as Katherine, who seduces Mark, and Almeria Campbell, who, as Deshawn’s mother, seduces Olivia into the two most devastating affairs of her life. Both actresses are outstanding. Torsten Johnson plays the highly sensitive Mark. He does it so well we almost forget he’s playing.

DeAnna Supple, Almeria Campbell. Photo by Jacey Rae Russell.

Directed by Kimille Howard, the work is precise and specific, every character always in place and every relationship always on the money. The production has a wonderful team of designers who deliver a stunning production with projections that often shock with perspective. Olivia’s office, for example, is in a room at the end of a long, professional building corridor that feels real when we look at it and marvel at the work of projection designer David Murakami. Costumes were designed by Danielle Preston and lighting design by John D. Alexander. Everything comes together nicely on the simple yet functional set designed by Baron E. Pugh. Under their combined efforts, the small Larry Vaber stage at the Unicorn Theater becomes a massive world on which this story unfolds.

World premieres can be devastating and this one is no exception. A talented new voice gets a professional hearing and the results with this amazing cast and crew are truly devastating. This is a must-see play and it’s a limited edition, which means get your tickets today!

BROKEN Code BIRD Switching plays at The Berkshire Theater Group’s Unicorn Theater at 6 East Street, Stockbridge, MA through July 9th. For information and tickets, call 413-997-4444 or visit their website.

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