Main page photo–Amiri Baraka. Photo: Facebook
Second photo–scene from the play
LOOKING FOR LEROY
Written by Larry Muhammad
Directed by Petronia Paley
Review by Ebele Oseye
We have come to expect high excellence from plays presented by New Federal. Looking for Leroy, exploring and celebrating the life of Amiri Baraka, dramatically exceeds expectations in delivering an astonishing level of information that satisfies the human hunger for greater knowledge.
The plays within the play, the multi-talented cast of two, Tyler Fauntleroy, as Taj, and Kim Sullivan, as Baraka, both bring to life the voices of so many historical characters, that we lose ourselves completely, deeply absorbed in a magical drama that makes time appear and disappear. Three semesters of university learning are artfully compacted in this enjoyable 90 -minute play. At a time when classroom spaces are disappearing and human interaction diminishing, “Looking for Leroy” invites the audience into a warm place with the radiant beauty of books, fireplace, chairs covered with cloth from Mali complemented by portraits of DuBois. Here two men from different generations engage in confrontational and frightfully honest conversations that reveal beauty and terror in equal measure.
The playwright, conspicuously, has commanding knowledge of Baraka’s life and works. What’s the storyline? In a narrative rich in dichotomy, ambivalence, philosophical explorations and cultural consciousness. A young man, Taj, who admires Amiri Baraka and who is himself an aspiring playwright, wants to be an assistant as his mentor works on his final play, “Most Dangerous Man in America,” dramatizing the life of W.E.B. DuBois. It seems that the young man idolized Baraka in a way that would lead to danger, and it does. Looking for perfection in a human being always leads to danger. One of many riveting moments in the play is the shared recitation of lines from Baraka’s poem “Somebody Blew Up America” with a repeated “Who, who!!” that recalls both the American owl whose symbol is wisdom, and the owl as symbol of evil in Mali and other West African countries.
Shared knowledge, shared culture unites the men bringing balance to a play where difference in age threatened to abort communication between generations. High talent is everywhere evident in this play. During the 30-minute talk back following the play, Woodie King admitted that he first wanted a rotating setting, but Petronia Paley insisted on the single, stationary setting which works so well providing stability and continuity. Two windows connect us to the light of day. The beautiful wooden door is not only exit by access.
Set designer Chris Cumberbatch’s many credits include “Malcolm X” and “Soldier’s Play.” The combined talents of experienced artists create this superlatively vibrant living space. Five years ago the Symphony Hall of Broad Street, Newark, New Jersey, was packed to capacity as we celebrated the life of Amiri Baraka, Poet-Playwright-Activist. Many people who had arrived on time could not get in. Son, Ras Baraka, who eulogized his father as the “Black Fire” would be mayor-elect of Newark four months later. Daughter Kellie Jones’ recent exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum also honors her father’s legacy. Looking for Leroy highlights our debt to this man of great courage and tremendous talent.
“Looking for Leroy” brings to life the expansive challenges and brilliant response to those challenges of Amiri Baraka, our “Black Fire” who never wavered in his pursuit of Ma’at, social justice and Truth.