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Black women are falling apart, literally and figuratively, in the regional premiere of sandblasted, Theatre Horizon’s season closer. Written by Charly Evon Simpson and directed by Cheyenne Barboza, sandblasted explores the chronic stress, mental load, and unique intersections of oppression faced by Black women.
Audiences are welcomed into Theatre Horizon’s intimate space with beautiful scenic design: Marie Laster covers the floor with sand and rock outcrops depicting the desert setting.
The play opens with Angela (Morgan Charèce) and Odessa (Jessica Johnson) waking up, partially covered in sand, evoking Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days. Angela is the outwardly anxious, geeky “safety cat” of the pair. Odessa is the life-of-the-party, attention-grabbing foil.
Within the first few minutes, there is drama—Odessa’s arm plummets to the ground with a thud. Odessa stares at it in horror and shock. Soon, Adah (Zuhairah) joins them. She’s less than empathetic to Odessa’s plight, and promises to help glue her back together. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that Angela and Odessa met at the beach while trying fresh air as the fix for what ails Black women. The two put their hope in Adah, an Oprah Winfrey-like celebrity guru, who is famous for giving talks across the country promising a cure for Black women whose bodies are falling apart, since she, an older Black woman, doesn’t have a single toe missing.
Great direction and dramaturgy
Under Barboza’s excellent, fast-paced, and empathetic direction, a play with some potential to drag keeps the audience captivated, with the help of a fantastic creative team, including costume designer Ang(ela) Bey. Costume changes onstage, along with the use of movement, bring cohesion and fluidity to the play’s time shifts. The camaraderie between Charèce, Johnson, and Zuhairah makes the relatively short scenes fun and engaging. Excellent dramaturgical work by Sunflower B. Rose, in the playbill and throughout the lobby, shares resources for different dimensions of healing for Black women, research on ancestral practices of healing, and a hands-on exploration of types of sand used in the production. Prosthetics designer Jo Vito Ramirez provides life-like body parts, drawing audiences into the story right away.
No stereotypes, no easy solutions
sandblasted explores the stressors on Black women, without getting overly preachy or educational. It sees Black women as they are beneath the stereotypes: not just the all-knowing wise woman, not just the strong Black woman, not just the party girl, but the vulnerable humans beneath the roles they’re forced to inhabit—people looking for healing and community. As a woman of color myself, I get tired of being applauded for my resilience, rather than being able to live in a world where I don’t have to be resilient. This play takes a close look at what it means to be a Black woman in a society that is callous and indifferent to her suffering and pain.
There’s no neat way to tie this story up at the end, but this is part of the truth it’s telling. There are no easy answers to the crisis facing Black women. The play ends on a hopeful note, which gives important balance to the weightier themes. Refreshingly original, darkly comedic, absurd, and hopeful, sandblasted will stick with audiences long after they leave the theater.
What, When, Where
sandblasted. By Charly Evon Simpson, directed by Cheyenne Barboza. $15-$75. Through June 4, 2023, at Theatre Horizon, 401 DeKalb Street, Norristown. (610) 277-1056 or theatrehorizon.org.
Theatre Horizon is an ADA-compliant venue with all-gender bathrooms.
Masking is optional.
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