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Assessment: ‘The Whitney Album’ Appears to be like to Theater to Remake a Painful Previous


In “The Whitney Album,” a heady and ritualistic new present that just lately opened at Soho Rep, the playwright and actor Jillian Walker makes use of Whitney Houston as an object lesson: The pressures heaped on gifted and well-known Black ladies, Walker suggests, are stifling, damaging and rooted in colonial subjugation.

Unlike the pop-diva-inspired musicals proliferating uptown, “The Whitney Album” eschews successful catalog for a soundtrack that’s sui generis, with percussive physique actions, a cappella solos and, finally, a gaggle singalong. The director Jenny Koons’s manufacturing unfolds — on a largely white stage (designed by Peiyi Wong), with a brass singing bowl gleaming down middle — as a form of occurring, unconcerned with typical narrative. The present assumes the type of what Walker may name “a vibe.”

After providing a heat welcome, the playwright delivers a lecture in regards to the energy of theater to remake historical past (“the archive is the unsung silence,” she says). Dense with educational syntax and punctuated by elemental rites (just like the pouring of water or sand from one vessel to a different), “The Whitney Album” blends mental principle and ceremony to the purpose of abstraction. (Walker studied to grow to be an Afro-Indigenous priest, she says, after being handed over for a prestigious full-time professorship.)

The actor Stephanie Weeks joins Walker onstage, and the 2 commerce off enjoying Houston and the ladies she was closest to — her mom and a longtime confidante — in scenes fraught with the stress of superstar. (The sound designer Ben Jalosa Williams, who operates an onstage board, briefly performs the function of an impatient white interviewer.) Walker likens Houston’s prodigious perspiration to the sweat, tears and saltwater graves of the trans-Atlantic slave commerce, tracing the consumption and disposal of Black ladies over three centuries. It’s a strong argument, directly persuasive and oversimplified. (“The Whitney Album” doesn’t prolong to contemplate as we speak’s Black feminine pop stars, like Beyoncé, for instance, who preserve a excessive diploma of management over their labor and publicity.)

The present’s shuffle of kinds — together with direct tackle, re-enactment, reside and recorded vocals — can really feel like an particularly soulful, high-concept report that’s extra evocative than linear. But its piled-up concepts, a lot of them couched in esoteric language that’s not simple to parse in a 90-minute efficiency, in the end don’t cohere right into a shifting or insightful entire.

Walker’s ardour and mind appear to put her alongside the continuum of artists and students she calls out by first title — like Saidiya, Lauryn and bell, amongst others. But how can Walker keep away from taking part within the cycle of consumption she goals to critique? It’s a query that she proves has no simple solutions.

The Whitney Album
Through July 2 at Soho Rep, Manhattan; sohorep.org. Running time: 1 hour half-hour.

Content Source: www.nytimes.com


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