You don’t have to pay exorbitant New York City prices to witness the birth of a stunning new play.
“Last Night and the Night Before,” running through Feb. 24 at Denver’s Ricketson Theatre, offers a cunning blend of poetry, drama and keen insight. It’s also rigorously funny, albeit in a way that reveals life in all its complexities.
The Denver Center for the Performing Arts’ world premiere follows a mother and daughter trying to catch their breath after a flurry of bad news. You might call some of it Fake News, though.
Monique and her 10-year-old daughter Samantha (Keona Welch, Zaria Kelley) left their southern home in a hurry. They knock on Monique’s sister door, a Brooklyn brownstone, eager for a change.
They just want to stay a few nights, or so Monique insists. Sister Rachel (Bianca Laverne Jones) naturally lets them in, even though it causes instant friction with her partner, Nadima (Erin Cherry).
Hidden secrets abound between the sisters, and some will take a considerable amount of stage time to come forward. Playwright Donnetta Lavinia Grays is in no hurry. Her flashbacks offer tantalizing glimpses of the truth, each woven expertly into the narrative.
Young Kelley isn’t the focus of those flashbacks. She still figures prominently in most, singing softly on the side of the stage. These childhood rhymes offer an audio cadence, a rhythm, to the pain on display.
It helps that Kelley is a marvelous, instinctual performer with crackerjack comic timing. She’s the heart of the play, and a lesser casting choice might have wounded the outstanding tale.
Director Valerie Newton-Curtis engages with two levels of stage craft, a tightly contained version and a more traditional backdrop. The former gives an added sense of intimacy, supplementing the graceful dialogue.
Family matters, but not always in ways that keep people together. “Last Night” summons complicated versions of the truth as well as how parents impact their children. A shared song, a silly explanation or even a shard of wisdom all shape young minds.
FAST FACT: Donnetta Lavinia Grays isn’t just a nimble playwright. She also appeared as an internal affairs detective on Syfy’s “Happy!”
“Last Night and the Night Before,” a 2017 Colorado New Play Summit attraction, suffers a few minor bumps in its second act. One character’s past reveals a gift that doesn’t align with her life experiences. The show’s narrative heft wobbles slightly, but swiftly recovers.
Small flaws, all.
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“Last Night” cast lacks a remotely weak link. Cherry avoids what could have been a one-note role by emitting an unmistakable warmth beneath her pragmatic veneer. And while co-star Sharod Choyce’s Reggie gets less stage time than his co-stars, his monologue-like rant in the second act is as potent as anything uttered during the rest of the performance.
“Last Night and the Night Before” will leave you exhilarated and a little more aware of the human condition.