The drums beat, heavy and slow at first, then picking up speed like a heartbeat. The rhythm pushes for answers, for ancestry. Dontrell cannot escape the dreams calling him to this quest — dreams of a forebearer who leapt to his death from a slave ship during the Middle Passage.
But Dontrell has a scholarship to maintain, a family to deal with and he can’t swim. Making his way into the middle of the Atlantic feels as hopeless as any hero’s journey. Faith, fate and family will all step in to shuffle his chances of success.
Dontrell, Who Kissed The Sea, now playing at Oregon Contemporary Theatre, is unlike anything I’ve seen. Author Nathan Alan Davis is a bewitching writer. He layers modern language, slang and cussing into a gorgeous script.
Up against these divine words are down-to-earth characters. Dontrell is a believable hero, an honors student at the nexus of genius and madness. His family is neither mythically wise nor sordidly dysfunctional; they’re just a group of generally good people doing their best, sharing moments of love amidst the tumult of lives that make up a home. I am grateful for Davis’ understanding of bitchy types, and just how valuable they are in a family.
Co-directors Maya Thomas and Craig Willis cocoon this extraordinary script in a simple set with thoughtful projections. Insightful costuming and striking choreography illuminate the magical realism of the story. Weighty performances anchor the production.
Jonathan Thompson crafts a compassionate interpretation of Dontrell. Lanny Mitchell and Maya Thomas as Dad and Mom are powerful. Seth Alexander Rue gives wings to the joyful language of Robby.
Part of the National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere series, Dontrell is playing in five cities over the course of a year. And playwright Davis will be in Eugene to attend a free public forum and Q&A at 3 pm Friday, June 4, at OCT.
At this point, I ask that you set down this review and order your tickets for Dontrell, Who Kissed The Sea. This play illuminates a corner of the human condition and will change the way we understand a hero in the context of his family.
Dontrell, Who Kissed The Sea plays through June 13 at Oregon Contemporary Theatre; tickets at octheatre.org or 465-1506.