Pictured: Harvey Williams. Photo by Jillian Shoptaw.
By Abigail Trabue
First, it’s important to note that I am a cisgender middle-class white woman whose life experiences makes it unthinkable to comment on the deeply personal and important themes of the African American community presented in Dominique Morisseau’s SUNSET BABY. To offer my observations on such themes would be hypocritical as they center around the aftermath of a revolution born out of oppression brought upon by a white judicial and criminal system that targets black men and furthers the poverty disparity and paternal absenteeism in our country. I recognize my limitations as a writer, and am grateful for the opportunity I was given to listen and learn. I also recognize the profound impact writers like Dominique Morisseau are having on exposing these powerful divides and giving a modern voice to a community who’s long struggled to be given equal footing on our stages.
SUNSET BABY, a 105-minute non-stop juggernaut brilliantly brought to life by KC Melting Pot Theatre, peels away the layers of raw painful emotion hidden under decades of suppressed words and necessary actions. Nina, an incredibly strong and deeply broken woman (fiercely played by Aishah Ogbeh) must come to terms with her political activist mother’s death, the return of her estranged and political hero father (played with suppressed eagerness by Harvey Williams) and her survivor boyfriend (Lewis Morrow in an exposed and gritty portrayal).
The play unfolds as a series of one-on-one dialogues with such vibrancy and urgency that the show never feels bogged down. Morisseau’s fast-paced world leaves no stone unturned as Nina bounces between the people she thinks she must be in order to survive, and the woman she is under the make-up, heels and wigs. Early on we see Nina sit down at her dressing table and begin to clean her face. As she wipes the layers of blue eyeshadow and red lipstick away, we see the woman underneath who is broken, lonely, fragile and in many ways, still a child yearning for the love of a father she has hated for so long. It’s an incredibly powerful moment and Ogbeh is heartbreaking.
Director Nicole Hodges Persley clearly understands the necessary levels of intensity required to make this script work and how to bring all of that out of her actors. Theresa Kelly’s gritty New York apartment builds on the coldness of Nina’s world while Dennis Jackson’s sound design swirls the music of Nina Simone around the apartment.
SUNSET BABY is a triumph for KC Melting Pot and firmly plants the company as a major player in Kansas City Theater. They continue to produce work that is relevant and speaks for a community that has long been underrepresented on our stages. If Kansas City is to cement its place on the national scene, we must further the effort to present works that give a voice to our minority communities, and we must diversify our stages. KC Melting Pot Theater is leading the charge and SUNSET BABY is a perfect example of why.
SUNSET BABY runs December 1st – December 16th. For more information visit kcmeltingpot.com.