I vividly remember the feeling I got the first time I saw the 90s television sitcom, Living Single on FOX. I witnessed, for the first time, a group of black vicenarians living successfully together in a Brooklyn brownstone. Four women and two men – good looking, interesting, and vastly different – maneuvering through life, love, and work the best way they knew how. They argued, laughed, and loved each other – always having each other’s backs.
Though I had not yet turned 20 when the show first premiered; I connected with it. The series gave me a powerful and positive visual foundation of black friendship. I am from Brooklyn, live in a brownstone, and from January 1, 1998 (the final episode of Living Single aired) I craved more stories I could identify with. Aziza Barnes’s new play, BLKS creates that same feeling for other young people of color today.
Early in the production, the audience is introduced to three black female roommates: Octavia (Paige Gilbert), who’s looking for work again, Imani (Alfie Fuller), the aspiring comic, and June (Antoinette Crowe-Legacy), a well-paid accountant.
Octavia is stressed that the girl she is in a situationship with, won’t examine the mole on her clitoris, June’s boyfriend has cheated on her for the 11th time, and Imani just wants to be a good friend and simply remember the lines to Eddy Murphy’s RAW routine verbatim. “It’s like…, queer…, and black as fuck…, and magically surreal…, and in Brooklyn.” It’s an evening’s whirlwind of events packed into a 90-minute show and a lot to digest.
However, BLKS gives us a comical glimpse into the lives of millennials – “BLK” millennials. Barnes accredits Chicago poet Avery R. Young with using BLK to create “a verbal distinction between a people and a color,” according to the NY Times.
BLK millennials are better educated than any generation before them, but they have looming student loans, and shrinking job force opportunities. Director Robert O’ Hara shows us June, Imani, and Octavia dealing with these issues while simultaneously conquering their own personal challenges with racial tension, day drinking, weed rolling, and random sexual encounters.
Much of the comedy centers around the major differences between BLKs and whites. Imani plays a game of “reparations” with the only white person in the play (seemingly with no name) just called That Bitch on the Couch (Marié Botha).
Though the play is laced with comedy based on stereotypes, there simply just isn’t enough time to explore the depths of prejudice. But we do get the fact that the characters are trying to cope in a complicated world. They’re only getting by through their support for each other. On stage the synergy between the three ladies is magnetic. They interact effortlessly and instinctively as real friends. Comfortable with one another and share looks of concern at the appropriate time.
Award-winning set designer Clint Ramos (Once On This Island, Eclipsed) creates magic on stage. The cozy Bushwick apartment rotates smoothly from room-to-room and the audience moves from the girls’ apartment, to a train station, comedy club, and even a club in Soho, within seconds. Ramos’ attention to detail is especially meticulous in the kitchen. Over the sink he sets three long shelves, one serving ingenuously as a bar. New Yorkers sharing an apartment space can immediately relate and understand the need for space-saving furnishings. A black and white framed photo of Brooklyn filmmaker, Spike Lee, known for his provocative work, sits prominently in their living room wall with a smile of approval.
While BLKS encourages young people of color to see themselves on stage they could leave this production feeling overwhelmed. The characters and their stories are worth spending more time with but they need more space to develop. Living Single got five seasons, and BLKS deserves at least a 10-episode Netflix series to fully explore the dynamic between these friends and all that they face today.