By: Dael Orlandersmith. At: Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St. Tickets: 312-443-3800; www.goodmantheatre.org; $12-$42. Runs through: Oct. 28
There are quite a few disturbing stories that Dael Orlandersmith shares in Black n Blue Boys/Broken Men, her one-woman show where she portrays different men and boys who talk about the physical, emotional or sexual abuse they either suffered, observed or perpetrated in life.
Although many of these tales told by Orlandersmith are undoubtedly shocking, they also have the power to jolt audiences to rethink their assumptions about rigid male gender norms and notions of who can and cannot be an abuse victim.
Created as a co-commission with Berkeley Repertory Theatre in California, Orlandersmith drew from her experience years ago as a social working in a house for runaway kids. As Orlandersmith points out in her stories, boys can be molested and abused by womendrawing even more societal stigma since they're not able to defend themselves or are accused of lying.
Shifting between ages, races and even nationalities, Orlandersmith creates vivid portrayals of grown men who still bear emotional or behavioral scars from their childhood abuse and young men who are still struggling with their parents' neglect. At first each character is announced by a projected name, but you're soon able to decipher who is whowhether it's the self-destructive Irish-British man Ian or the defensive Puerto Rican-American youth who goes by the name of "Flaco."
One might question Orlandersmith's decision to include a child molester in the mix, as if to provided balance or a viewpoint from the other sides. Yet the inclusion does match up with the overall stories of people polite society would rather sweep under the rug instead of listening to what they have to say.
Director Chay Yew stages Black n Blue Boys sharp and incisive simplicity. Set on a largely bare stage (with some rough edges) designed by Daniel Ostling, Yew and lighting designer Ben Stanton keep things deliberately dark so that the dim pools of light center concentration on Orlandersmith as she sheds some illumination her male characters' difficult lives.
Yew and Orlandersmith are greatly aided in their storytelling efforts by sound designer Mikhail Fiksel, who accentuates the drama with telling music cues or ambient noise that often increases along with the recounted tension and horror.
The difficult subject matter of Black n Blue Boys no doubt might scare away some theatergoers. But those who brave Black n Blue Boys are in for a richly written and expertly performed piece that should hopefully change perceptions and assumptions on the emotional and physical bruising faced by many boys and men.