Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 5, 2022

Review: Berkshire Theatre Group, "B.R.O.K.E.N Code B.I.R.D Switching"

Berkshire Theatre Group, Stockbridge, MA
through July 9, 2022
by Shera Cohen

The Berkshires is a mecca of world premiere plays. As Berkshire Theatre Group soon approaches its 100th Anniversary, there have been many that have seen the light of day right here, pre-Broadway. The most recent premiere is "B.R.O.K.E.N Code B.I.R.D Switching" written by Tara L. Wilson Noth.

Contemporary news-breaking topics account for the crux of the story, yet almost divided equallyl in intensity between Act I and Act II. Racial injustice, profiling, poverty, class and color distinctions are at the forefront. Equally, yet seemingly disconnected to the horrors of our country in the 21st century, are the life defining moments which many individuals and families oftentimes face; i.e. death of a child, protection of each other.

Without exception, the play features a cast of superior actors with DeAnna Supplee in the lead role as a pro bono attorney, reluctant and feeling ill-qualified to take on a murder trial. Her characterization of Olivia Bennett is intelligent, raw, and emotional. She is the link that holds every scene together; even scenes in which she does not appear. Supplee is surely a talent whose name should be watched in the future.

The three men in Olivia's life are as disperate as they come. Torsten Johnson, portraying the other half of the inter-racial couple, comes on solely as handsome and caring; his personality nil. Yet Johnson's demeanor, volume, and relationship with his now-divorced wife comes though as honestly as his character permits during Act II. Deshawn Payne is a young actor whose role as an inmate is at the core of the legal battle. The actor is intense physically and verbally. Whether guilty or innocent, doesn't matter until the end of the play toward a predictable conclusion. It is the pull and push between Olivia and Deshawn that gives "B.R.O.K.E.N..." its power and rage. Jahi Kearse's portrayal of photographer Olen Porter is, in a sense, a wise man whose preaching on the sense of self is what matters at the end of life. Director Kimille Howard pits Olivia v. Porter in a strong tirade in Act II in a war of words, each elegantly chosen by the playwright.

Special kudos to Projection Designer David Murkami whose hundreds of still photos juxtiposed in various sections against the back and sidewalls of the stage, creates exceptional devices; times, locations, people, depth perception. If a picture is said to be worth 1000 words, Murkami's photos literally fill in the gaps of the play with aplomb. It is also no coincidence that the key character of Porter, as somewhat of a soothsayer, works as a photographer.

A final comment relates to the play's title. Try as I may, I cannot understand it meaning or the relationship to this superb play.