Black Cypress Bayou Review – What Goes Around

Angela Lewis, Kimberly Scott, and Brandee Evans in BLACK CYPRESS BAYOU - Photo by Jeff Lorch
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Penned by Kristen Adele Calhoun and directed by Tiffany Nichole Greene, BLACK CYPRESS BAYOU makes its world premiere at the Geffen Playhouse in 2024. A combination of mystery, murder, and family secrets, this play received the Edgerton Foundation New Play Award. Playwright Calhoun clearly has the creds to weave this tale: “I trace my roots at least seven generations back (on both sides) to Deep East Texas. We are of red clay, big sky, an illogical hope in better days, and the audacity to bring those days to bear. I am grateful to the people of this place – like my grandparents…for showing me that all of our survival is connected. I am grateful for the communities of care they created in the midst of unthinkable horrors. I am grateful for the shout, the rocking chair, the wail, the altar call, the belly laugh, the garden, and all the tools they passed down with no name but deep power.”

Brandee Evans, Angela Lewis, Amber Chardae Robinson, and Kimberly Scott – Photo by Jeff Lorch

For the uninitiated, Black Cypress Bayou is a 23.3 mile swamp along the Black Cypress River close to Jefferson, Texas. Over the years, it has morphed into a recreation area, but in the past it probably harbored lots of covert, clandestine, and sometimes chilling confidences and their enigmatic skeletons just waiting in the closet to be let loose on the world.

Kimberly Scott, Brandee Evans, and Angela Lewis – Photo by Jeff Lorch

The time is August 2020 – in the heart of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic – and the place is Deep East Texas. Vernita Manifold (Kimberly Scott) has called her girls together, ostensibly for a little fishing in Black Cypress Bayou. But it seems that Mama has other plans that her daughters, LadyBird Manifold (Brandee Evans) and RaeMeka Manifold-Baler (Angela Lewis), can’t even begin to suspect. First of all, what’s that white man’s severed head doing in Vernita’s laundry basket? Especially since that white man is their hated and feared enemy – a man who has cheated and lied in order to gain power, money, and land which rightfully belongs to its African-American residents, a man whom their family has been battling for years. And who is that security guard who calls herself Taysha Hunter (Amber Chardae Robinson) and turns up at unexpected and inconvenient times? The heat of the Bayou summer evening will soon begin to sizzle.

Kimberly Scott and Brandee Evans – Photo by Jeff Lorch

Director Greene skillfully helms this tale of love, hate, legacy, revenge, and letting go with the able assistance of the talented all-female cast. Lawrence E. Moten’s scenic design is just about perfect for the story, laden with twisting cypress trunks and shadowy Spanish moss dangling from their branches and a dark river sluggishly flowing nearby. Not to be outdone, Mylette Nora’s costumes burst from the gloomy shadows spotlighted by Donny Jackson’s lighting and Everett Elton Bradman’s sound and music. Each element of the bayou is treated with care, lending authenticity to the ladies’ mysterious surroundings.

Brandee Evans and Angela Lewis – Photo by Jeff Lorch

BLACK CYPRESS BAYOU will appeal to lovers of subtle mystery with growing suspense who question how the past resonates in the present – all with a soupcon of the supernatural thrown in. This is a small, intimate play raising lots of big, important questions – with some humor casually tossed into the mix.

BLACK CYPRESS BAYOU poster – Courtesy of Geffen Playhouse

BLACK CYPRESS BAYOU runs through March 17, 2024, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays, at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sundays. The Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater is located in the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024. Tickets range from $39 to $129. For information and reservations, call 310-208-2028 or go online.

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