In 2009, Oscar Grant was shot by the police after a small dispute with another person. He didn’t deserve to be shot and murdered, but he was. He wasn’t the first or the last, and with internet and the world wide web taking over, we have seen many new examples of this since then. A movement was started, people rallied, people battle for their rights. This is the climate of America today, just as it was fifty years ago. It’s not pretty, especially if you are an ethnic person. Art has been the mirror of society since the dawn of time. We have always used our art to reflect what’s around us, what affects us as a community, and in the end, to create a powerful piece that can create conversation. “Chokehold” produced by Core Creative Production and written by Anthony P. Pennino, is the latest play to attempt to resonate with audiences, but sadly it’s reliance on out date stock character and its lack of authenticity ends up hurting a powerful concept.
The idea which sparks the play is brilliant. A white man is kidnapped by an activist group which is going to use him to prove a point. The point being that innocent black people die all the time for the most minor of issues. They want to film it. They want to show the world what an innocent death because of racial issues feels like. This is relevant stuff. This is important. This is the kind of idea that can go to another level. On the days following yet another black male getting shot, this is the kind of concept that can make people talk. It might be the concept, but this is not the play. Not when it’s clearly written out of sympathy instead of empathy. Not when the experience seems foreign to the writer. What we end up getting is a play trying too hard to be important, but not giving us any reason for it to be.
The actors did a good job with what they were given. Besides the inconsistencies in the script, and style, the black actors were all playing the same type, written the same way. They were all a version of the angry black person. This is an issue that non-black writers have had for years, the problem of making black characters just avatars for emotions.. What they try to pass as edgy, seems forceful. The explanation of the black lives matter movement comes out as it trying to give significance to a play that depends too much on old stereotypes and overdone dialogue to create a dialogue in the modern world. The power of the plot is sucked away by a string of half done moments. At the start, we have the filmmaker of the group obsessed with the shots, since he wants it to be very Cinema Verité. It’s a commentary on the style of the play, a play that tried very hard to be realistic. Yet, when the character Tika goes to tell her story, she goes into this movement piece to express it…. The whole meta commentary gone in one moment. By the end, when we get the ending we knew we were going to get, any power from the concept left was not there. I felt drained and disappointed because this could have been a very important play, but it wasn’t.
“Chokehold” is being shown at the Y on 14th Street until October. While there’s good performances in the show, there’s not much I can recommend. The play creates more of a problem than it helps. It is the equivalent of that white friend that tries to be your ally, but ends up saying something you wish they didn’t. That’s how i feel about this play, and I really wish I didn’t.
Out of 4 stars: