A dead man’s legacy

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"Scraps" Photo courtesy of Matrix Theatre

Playwright Geraldine Inoa’s stunning play “Scraps” is haunted by a character we never meet.

It’s 2014 and we’re on a stoop at the corner of Myrtle and Tompkins in Bed/Stuy Brooklyn. We’re a few feet away from where Forest Winthrop died … or maybe I should say was gunned down by police. Even though this happened three months earlier, it’s still wreaking havoc for those closest to him. We never meet Forest but we focus on those he left behind. There’s his friend who can’t seem to get his life together to get a job or his GED. There’s the single mom and five-year old boy he left behind. Her sister, who’s still having panic attacks. And finally another friend who’s back maybe to hook up with Forest’s ex - at least that’s what everyone’s worried about.

It’s a mess. Everyone’s pretty shaken. You see, Forest Winthrop was the promise of the neighborhood. He was the one who was going to get out. He was going to be huge, football star, as big and rich as Jay-Z.

For act one, we circle around these friends. It has a rough, edgy feel - a neighborhood drama that echoes Black Lives Matter in every dimension but the play packs a lot into a small space. While there is a clear villian - there aren’t easy answers and there are more dimensions to these characters than you might assume. The friend smoking the blunt without a job is reading “Dubliners”. One just finished his first year at Columbia and another, with some struggles, is at NYU. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on things, Ms. Inoa complicates the play.

Then comes act two when it literally breaks apart.

Remember that 5 year old? The son of the dead man? He’s eight now and in act two we leave the haunted, gritty realism of that street corner for the terrifying nightmare landscape of his mind. Stylistically, it’s a completely different world, a sort of game show in hell where this boy is terrorized by the question of who was his father. Ms. Inoa goes from the specificity of that street corner to reveal a horrible inheritance that’s going to trap this fatherless boy and connect him to a longer, painful lineage.

This shift from act one to act two is jarring - as it should be. Structurally, it’s not entirely successful but emotionally it’s devastating.

What holds the play together is the remarkable ensemble of actors who go from giving subtle, nuanced performances in act one to over the top physically bold caricatures in act two. It’s like two different plays and it’s not an easy journey.

Ms. Inoa’s voice isn’t one you’ve heard in the theater before but if we’re going to make sense of racism and the violence against innocent black men - hers is an essential voice.

Don’t miss this powerful production.

“Scraps” plays at the Matrix Theatre in Hollywood through September 15th.