Death’s best gift

Azuka Theatre presents James Ijames’s Reverie

In
3 minute read
Scene from Reverie. Bazemore & Mitchell, both Black men, in an apartment kitchen, both looking wistfully toward the audience
A million things left unsaid: David Bazemore (left) and Justin Mitchell in Azuka’s ‘Reverie.’ (Photo by Johanna Austin.)

So many of us who have suffered a loss—especially one that comes without warning—experience otherworldly encounters that bring peace and closure. This is what plays out in Reverie, the latest premiere by the recently anointed Pulitzer Prize winner James Ijames, now onstage at Azuka Theatre.

More than 15 years ago, I lost a good friend and close collaborator very suddenly. She was there one day, and then she was gone. But in the days and weeks that followed her death, I found that I was frequently talking to her. She’d come to me while I was asleep or distracted, neither a ghost nor a dream, and we finished a hundred unfinished conversations. When writer’s block came, which it did so often at that time, it was her voice in my head that set me to typing again. As weeks turned into months and months turned into years, these welcome appearances by my friend became less and less frequent, but every once in a while, she visits me still.

An unexpected visit

When she died, her friends and family came together to share their memories of her and also so that they could better know and understand the whole, entire person she was in life. Reverie opens with this experience on a micro level: Paul (Damien J. Wallace), the bereaved father of Lucas (Justin Mitchell) travels unannounced from North Carolina to Philadelphia to meet Jordan (David Bazemore), whose address he only knows because it was written inside a book that was in Lucas’s nightstand when he died.

Paul has not shown up at Jordan’s door to return his property; he’s shown up in the hope that by meeting Jordan, he can better understand his late son. Paul, a Christian pastor, had long suspected Lucas was gay, but Lucas died without coming out to his parents. All he left were fragments, and Paul is hoping Jordan can help him make sense of them.

As the action unfolds, the two share stories about Lucas and grant one another a glimpse into their own lives, as well. Their conversations are sweet and funny and sad, and Wallace, in particular, gives a beautifully nuanced performance as the depths of both men’s relationships with Lucas are plumbed.

Idealized and real

Reverie would still be touching if it were only Jordan and Paul onstage throughout, but their interactions are punctuated by visitations from Lucas. Mitchell practically floats on and off the stage, appropriately ephemeral for a character who is supposed to be dead, but who is still very much present in the lives of the people who cared about him.

Lucas helps Jordan and Paul grieve, and also heal. His time onstage flashes back to when he was still alive, but instead of playing out exactly as the original events had, he provides both of the still-living men with closure, allowing Jordan and Paul to play out the remembered moments the way they wished things would have gone, instead of the way they actually did. And though these scenes are idealized, director Jerrell L. Henderson and intimacy director Zoe Nebraska make sure they nonetheless feel real.

When someone close to us dies, there are always a million things left unsaid, and almost as many regrets. The best gift the dead can leave us with is their memory; in our conversations with the dearly departed—real or imagined—we can allow ourselves to take the good and forgive the bad. Reverie shows us a path toward this healing.

What, When, Where

Reverie. By James Ijames, directed by Jerrell L. Henderson. Tickets are pay-what-you-decide after the show, but advance registration is suggested. Through May 22, 2022, at the Proscenium Theatre at the Drake, 302 S. Hicks Street, Philadelphia. (215) 563-1100 or azukatheatre.org.

Proof of Covid-19 vaccination and a valid ID are required to attend, and guests must remain masked throughout the show.

Accessibility

The Proscenium Theatre at the Drake is a wheelchair-accessible venue. Contact the box office at (215) 563-1100 or [email protected] to arrange for wheelchair-friendly seating.

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