The continuing mayhem played out in Black communities is much more than who what when news stories that capture attention for maybe two minutes at a time at 6, 10 or 11 o’clock each night. Just as important, if not more so, is that what happened before and after the trigger is pulled?
The final production of the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company’s season is a powerful piece that leaves its audience exhausted and spent.
“Comfort Zone” is anything but comfort. The aftermath of a murder in the neighborhood corner store left the community on edge with plenty of finger-pointing.
Checkers St. Bernard attempts to move on with his life, opening his store for business as usual the following day. His old friend Slick insists he lays low until after the heat dies down by sharing his commentary on how the fallout will make Checkers the target of police investigators, and the families both the shooter and the victim. Rev. Worthy stops in to check up on Checkers and invite him to a vigil being held that evening.
The morning takes a turn when the mother of the shooter stops in to advise Checkers not to say anything about her son and how her child is not a cold-blooded killer. Not long after, the victim’s father enters the store and Checkers, the lone witness to the crime, becomes the mediator between both sides. All parties are longtime neighborhood residents whose families have a shared history unlike their current situation.
Through the parents confrontation more facts come out. Both sons had a girl in common who was at the center of a disagreement the young lady is now the mother of a fatherless child.
“Comfort Zone” reveals what doesn’t make the news broadcasts or stories in the paper. It does shed light on what creates the conflicts, why it escalates and how it ends. But don’t look for any neat, clean endings. Powerful performances about throughout the play which will have you on the edge of your seats.
Kevin Brown (Checkers St. Bernard) as the story’s solid rock does a yeoman’s job in his attempts to bring a boiling pot back to a simmer while his own emotions and reason are constantly tested. Bryant Brentley (Slick Atkins) is that guy who always has something to say, especially since he is busy being judge and jury. Mark Clayton Southers (Rev. Worthy) is just a bit stiff portraying a stereotypical minister, spouting well-intended biblical passages that sound hollow given the circumstances.
Cheryl El Walker and Monn Washington serve up wrenching performances as parents in damage control who see their sons as victims and lash out at each other as they try to make sense of what happened.
Director Mark Whitehead wisely and deftly manages to keep the actors from going over the top and easily shifts the tone from active tension to thoughtful retrospect.
Playwright Marlon Youngblood wanted his play to spark conversation on Black on Black homicides.
He did that and more.
“Comfort Zone” runs through May 24.
Performances are 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sundays. May 24 performances are 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 for Thursday and weekend matinee, $25 for Friday and Saturday evening shows. Tickets are $5 more at the door except for students with valid ID, seniors and theatre artists. Seating is general admission. To purchase online, go to www. pghplaywrights.com/zone. For group rates call 412-687-4686. Pittsburgh Playwrights is located at 937 Liberty Avenue in The Cultural District, Downtown.