Bold, timely, hot-blooded, and bewildering, Geraldine Inoa’s new play, Scraps, is all these things and more. What an audience sees upon entering the intimate, semi-circular auditorium of the Matrix Theatre is John Iacovelli’s terrific rendering of a section of street in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn with a three–step-up apartment house adjacent to a store with a corrugated, roll-up metal door emblazoned with a street-art rendering of a huge black face under a cartoon crown. I couldn’t help but think of the 1929 hit play Street Scene.
The lights come up to reveal Jean-Baptiste Delacroix (Tyrin Niles) sitting on the stoop. He schools the audience with what amounts to a Shakespearean-style prologue, an excellent rude-crude poem that lays out the territory of the situation of the aftermath of a police murder of a young, unarmed black man named Forrest Whitaker, who was gunned down just a few steps away by a white police officer. That murder echoes throughout the play as each character still deals with the shock and grief some months after. Jean-Baptiste puffs on his spliff to the annoyance of Aisha (Denise Yolén), the young, beautiful, hard-working mother of five-year-old Sebastian, the offspring of the slain young man. Aisha is exhausted; Jean-Batiste is unmotivated. Both are brilliant.
Calvin Young (Ahkei Togun), a Columbia scholar just back in the neighborhood after a trip to England, turns up, and the two young men clash. Completing the quartet of characters, Adriana (Ashlee Olivia), Aisha’s younger sister and an NYU student, appears in pajamas and seems to be clinically depressed. All struggle with the aftermath of the death of Forrest in their own ways.
But the show is not all doom and gloom. The best moment comes when Biggie Smalls’ “Notorious Thugs” came up on Jean-Baptiste’s radio prompting the quartet to explode into joyous singing and dancing that goes on and on to the point of exhaustion. A white police officer (Stan Mayer) appears to quash the noise and joy.
The second act of the ninety-minute play veers into an unexpected, nightmarish sequence that takes place three years after the action of the first part of the play, in which the now eight-year-old Sebastian (Damon Rutledge) yearns for his father. A description of the action will not serve here. Like revenge, it is best experienced cold.
This important, extraordinary, affecting play, featuring a superb cast of actors given keen direction by Stevie Walker-Webb, must be seen. Not everyone will like it; not everyone will understand it. The same can be said of many of the great classics of the theatre. See it. Draw your own conclusions. I guarantee you will not be bored.
Scraps is well served by an excellent creative staff consisting of lighting design by Brian Gale and Zo Haynes; sound design by Jeff Gardner; costume design by Wendell C. Carmichael; and props design by David Saewert. Ajmed Best choreographs the fights and Rita Cofield manages the stage with aplomb.
This presentation of the West Coast premiere of Scraps, produced and presented by Joseph Stern and associate producer Gabrieal Griego of the Matrix Theatre Company, continues through September 15 at The Matrix Theatre, 7657Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles.