There are many parents present in poet-playwright-performer Dael Orlandersmith’s searing solo stage memoir. They include Chopin and Proust, Oscar Wilde and Sarah Bernhardt, Édith Piaf and Richard Wright — all cited as Orlandersmith’s spiritual forebears and all buried in Paris’ Père Lachaise cemetery. A pilgrimage there bookends Forever, directed by Neel Keller in its world premiere at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.
The two most responsible for creating Orlandersmith the artist, however, turn out to include Père Lachaise’s Jim Morrison, whose poetically inflected music first provided her entrée to New York’s burgeoning downtown music scene of the 1970s and led her to a surrogate family of kindred writers and performers.
But most of all there is Beulah, her berating, belittling, pathologically possessive and ego-smothering, alcoholic mother.
In a portrait at once elegiac and angry, lyrical and recriminatory and rife with the kind of love-hate paradoxes that define any filial relationship but are here represented in extremis, Orlandersmith reconstructs Beulah’s life from South Carolina to a Harlem tenement. That's where she gave birth to the future playwright, who promptly became both emotional crutch and the object of blame for all of the tortured woman’s life disappointments.
Orlandersmith’s intention, she says at one point, was to finally write something with the “naked, gut-honest” candor of an author like Wright. And in the harrowing, very personal and unflinchingly courageous journey described in Forever, she achieves it.
Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; through Oct. 26. (213) 628-2772, centertheatregroup.org.
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