Theater Review: BLOOD AT THE ROOT (Open Fist)

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by Tony Frankel on October 26, 2023

in Theater-Los Angeles


Hooray and hallelujah, for Open Fist‘s taut 80-minute production of Dominque Morisseau‘s Blood at the Root, dynamically directed by Michael A. Shepperd, and choreographed by Yusuf Nasir, has been extended until November 6, 2023 at Atwater Village Theatre. Easily the most powerful play on any L.A. stage right now, Blood (dramatically lit by Gavan Wyrick) concerns a Deep South high school where a Black student decides to sit under a gigantic oak tree, normally a space where the white students congregate. When nooses mysteriously appear on a limb of the tree (astoundingly made of ropes by designer Joel Daavid), Black students and an impassioned white journalist for the school newspaper (Grace Soens) are rightfully outraged when no action is taken and the Principal calls it a mere prank. What begins as a protest turns into a maelstrom of ideals, constrictions, identity, race relations, coming out, and so much more. Morisseau (Skeleton CrewAin’t Too Proud) is easily one of our greatest living playwrights, and yet this 10-year-old play (along with Pipeline) is just making its L.A. premiere. How this playwright turns our country’s never-ending polemics into a satisfying examination of teens dealing with an inherited class and caste system is unexplainable. Except to say that she is a genius. The cast is amazing throughout, with standout performances etched into my consciousness forever (Azeem Vecchio‘s monologue about the pressures of being what others call an “oreo cookie” is remarkable). But it is Shepperd, fired as Artistic Director of the Celebration Theatre in an act of cancel culture, who proves that he does indeed belong in a leadership role, molding his actors within his fluid direction, ensuring that each character receives our empathy and compassion. DO NOT MISS THIS PRODUCTION.

Also starring Malik BaileyDeandra BernardoEmma BrunoNychelle Hawk, Nicholas HeardJeremy Reiter IICaroline RoseJack David Sharpe, Amber Tiara.

photos by Jenny Graham

Blood at the Root
Open Fist Theatre Company
Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave
Fri and Sat at 8; Sun at 3 (Nov. 5); Mon at 8 (Nov. 6)
ends on October 28, 2023 EXTENDED to November 6, 2023
for tickets ($20-$30), call 323.882.6912 or visit Open Fist

Grace Soens and Azeem Vecchio
Nychelle Hawk and Jeremy Reiter II
Nicholas Heard and Ensemble
Jack David Sharpe, Emma Bruno and Ensemble
Nychelle Hawk and Caroline Rose
Nychelle Hawk and Ensemble
Grace Soens, Azeem Vecchio and Ensemble
Nicholas Heard, Malik Bailey and Ensemble

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