I love Woodie King Jr.’s New Federal Theatre, and its most current offering “Looking For Leroy” is proof of why. This production is the epitome of what Black theater should be! It is a fascinating look into the life of cherished playwright Amiri Baraka through the creative mind of playwright Larry Muhammad. And while Muhammad lets the audience know the person Baraka was and how he came to be, he also gives a stunning tribute to Black theater and why it is crucial. He names many outstanding Black theater writers and the contributions they have made to theater. He lets the audience understand why Black voices must be heard, why there were revolutionary Black theater writers like Baraka and why it is important to nurture a new generation of writers.
“Looking For Leroy” is only running until March 31. You must go and take the young ones with you, so that they can get an amazing history lesson that doesn’t feel like a lesson at all. This play instills a pride in the accomplishments of our people. It is a shouting from the rooftops of what we have done and what gifted creative minds have graced our history—like James Baldwin, August Wilson and so, so many more.
The two-character play features Kim Sullivan as Baraka and he is fantastic. He captures this treasured playwright, activist and scholar so beautifully and dramatically, and pays homage to the importance of this man on the Black theater scene just by the intensity and heart of his riveting performance. Tyler Fauntleroy plays Taj, a young college intern and playwright who comes to work for Baraka and assists him with one of his plays about Baraka’s idol W.E.B. DuBois. Fauntleroy’s stage presence is felt and the chemistry between Sullivan and Fauntleroy is tangible. They simply connect so beautifully.
Muhammad depicts Baraka as a person who can be difficult and challenging for the intern to work with but who, in the end, was actually helping the youngster to find his own voice.
The message behind the play is, as Black playwrights, you tell the issues of your people and you proclaim what is going on in the Black community to the world. You have to be the voice of your people, but in order to do that you have to know who you are and what your own voice sounds like and you don’t have to sell out to the establishment theaters and soften your messages. Baraka advises the young playwright to put up his own productions, because if you go for the white theaters, you will become something that you don’t want to be. You have to be true to yourself.
It’s wonderful, how Muhammad demonstrates the confident, fiery spirit of Baraka. This is a man who had many metamorphoses throughout his life and emerged a trailblazer for the Black theater scene. He didn’t write plays for the status-quo; he wrote plays to trumpet the injustices happening to his people in this country.
This is one of the most poignant, captivating, powerful pieces you will get to experience that really captures the grandeur of quality Black theater. Bravo to director Petronia Paley. This production also has elaborately detailed set design by Chris Cumberbatch, Afrocentric costume design by Kathy Roberson, and lighting design by Antoinette Tynes.
“Looking for Leroy” is playing only through March 31 at the Castillo Theatre at 543 W 42nd Street. Please go see it and see what this man and what Black, creative minds, have stood for through the generations. If you don’t know who the Black playwrights were, both men and women who were the movers and the shakers, you will be educated in this thoroughly eye-opening, mind-blowing and spirit lifting production.
For more information, visit www.castillo.org/looking-for-leroy-2019.