Coming of age play tackles current conversations

Actor Tré Davis, left, plays George and Renika Williams, who plays Nina Baker, rehearsing for “Sweet” on Oct. 5.
Jonathan McCrory

A new theater production called “Sweet,” will be celebrating National Black Theatre’s “Pursuit of Black Joy” theme when it debuts on Oct. 22.

The coming-of-age play focuses on a tale of young love set in 1960’s Kansas during the Civil Rights Movement. The play is a drama and romance story that will showcase the lives of three different characters discovering themselves and experiencing new emotions. The play’s creator says the varied personality represents an aspect of black people missing from mainstream entertainment.

“It’s a play about black people living their lives, and we get to watch them struggle, love, dance, and sing together — it’s a rare treat to be celebrated that way,” said Harrison Rivers, playwright and creator of the play. “There is something really beautiful about that. It’s so important for me seeing myself in theater and seeing a character who looks like me.”

“Sweet” follows two sisters, Retha and Nina Baker who live an all-black town in Kansas. When their mother dies unexpectedly, their childhood friend and next door neighbour George, returns home from college alighting a test of their relationship with each other. With both Baker sisters having feelings for George, the three end up in a complicated love triangle as they come of age. The cast of “Sweet” is made up of three actors — the only characters in the story — who will perform the play, which has a runtime of an hour and a half. Rivers says finally seeing a story he has worked on since college come to fruition, was an exciting journey as a writer.

“It was a long time coming,” said Rivers. “I wrote a scene for graduate school in 2007, and overtime I kept returning to these characters and that scene. It was 10 years in the making on and off, but the long journey was even more exciting.”

National Black Theater’s, “Pursuit of Black Joy” theme is showcasing stories relevant to the state of black people today. Even though Rivers wrote his play before the current movements like Black Lives Matter, he says audiences can strongly identify with the lessons explored in the play.

“It’s set in late 60’s during a time when we were asking, ‘what is the value of human life — the black body?’” said Rivers. “That is the world these human beings are trying to figure out. These are universal themes asking, ‘who am I, is there room for me, and will I be okay?’”

Rivers says coming up with a title for his play was a challenge, but he explains how one word encompassed the youthful adventures in the story.

“‘Sweet’ resonated with me — it has sweetness in it,” said Rivers. “It’s young people trying to define themselves, and there is something earnest, beautiful and sweet about that effort. It’s the sweetness of trying to figure who you are.”

“Sweet” at National Black Theatre [2031 5th Ave bet. Martin Luther King Boulevard and E. 126th Street in Harlem., (718)722-3800,]. Oct. 22–Nov. 20 at 7 pm. $35.

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimo[email protected]
Renika Williams rehearsing a scene from “Sweet.” Williams plays Nina Baker, who is one of the sisters in the story.
Jonathan McCrory

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