By Marcina Zaccaria . . .

Boxed into a small room, Man, played by Allan K. Washington [Once on this Island, HBO’s The Deuce) balances his body while clearing his mind of rage toward himself or his friends.

Like a slam poet, he aims to get himself beyond the light, white walls.  He confronts the death of friends and the awful news of someone arrested while driving Black with a roaring rage that surpasses any fool-hearty explanation about new pathways that lead to nowhere.  He suffers from a type of panic disorder.  Telling himself to “Find Your Happy Place” he freely associates beyond a grin of Prozac to conquer his fear.  Recognizing his progressive ritual action, he moves beyond his contained stage to imagine a difficult America, questioning whether anyone might ever feel included.

Mansa Ra (fka Jiréh Breon Holder), the Playwright, takes us back to the South.  We cannot go forward unless we go back.  In the broad-minded Greenwich Village full of intelligentsia where Rattlestick Playwrights Theater is located, it is sometimes troubling to look all the way back to the myopic era of enslavement, where women were separated from men, and families so easily broken.

In the hours before dawn, we hear the gospel sound of Madison (Charles Browning).  Madison and Lazarus, played by Victor Williams, (Cost of Living, Luck of the Irish, The Good Lord Bird on Showtime) debate the principles of freedom, before explaining that they are searching for their women. Old and Young, the men find themselves in a type of spiderweb of time, where movement in any direction brings them closer to each other’s psyche.  Brilliant attention is paid to stride as Director Christopher D. Betts creates an environment for dancer-like precision.  Soon, Hue (Biko Eisen-Martin) and Tony (Travis Raeburn) present.

Time ranges from the 1700s through 1971 through 1993.  The earth below and the heavens above are so differently frightening on the ground where Man was first standing.  The dark depth of imagination is easily countered with the strong presence of a group, side by side, armed with words that pour through.  The audience is not encountering an impoverished body of citizens unable to speak.  Silence is not a virtue.

So, where are we now, in the debate for inclusion with appreciation for our cultural identity?  When the character from 1993 responds to the question, “Have You Ever Been a Slave?” with his answer, “No, I’ve been free my whole life,” it’s the kind of surprising admission that we all long to hear.  As Madison closes the moment, singing gospel, “Fare Ye Well,” we cheer for the Playwright who has finally given voice to that step in the journey.

In the Southern Breeze is playing until December 12th at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, located at 224 Waverly Place in NYC.