Brian Jennings and Chinaza Uche. Photo courtesty of HartBeat Ensemble.
HartBeat Ensemble, Hartford
Things aren't always the way they look, and they might not be anything like you think, unless you can see them from the other side.
That's the message of Julia B. Rosenblatt's play, FLIPSIDE, an intriguing, raw and revealing look into the lives of a drug dealer and the undercover cop who busts him being presented by HartBeat Ensemble in Hartford.
The work is the result of research into why Hartford loses its young people, the efforts of law enforcement to combat drugs and the real life experiences of a young drug hustler in the city. It is told in dialogue, original music (Martin Carillo) and poetry.
At the start, Bo (Chinaza Uche), has been arrested and the story seems familiar - a young, black man arrested for doing drugs. Through a series of flashbacks, we discover that there's more to the story, and that we might not know Nick (Brian Jennings), the cop who arrested him, as well as we thought either.
The two meet on the street and incredibly discover they share a love of science and programs on the NOVA television program. A friendship of sorts develops, even as their lives take different directions (the various people in their lives over the years are played with amazing distinctiveness by a chorus of three: Taneisha Duggan, Cindy Martinez and Rosenblatt.)
Bo, 16, juggles a relationship with his girlfriend and watching out for his little sister while coping with an ill, unemployed father and an addicted mother. Drug money seems the only way to get by, but Bo is smarter than the other dealers Nick catches. He cuts out the middleman and peddles his wares to rich kids in the suburbs where he's less likely to be caught. He also doesn't touch the stuff himself, which helps him hide his profession. He's also regrets the consequence of what he does, especially after a young girl ODs on the drugs he provided.
Nick, meanwhile, has his own regrets: kids he never sees, a wife who grows increasingly unsupportive of his undercover assignments and a feeling that his arrests may be doing more harm than good, not only for the offenders, but for the family members affected by them. The friendship takes on an almost Jesus/Judas feel, with the men playing both roles in each other's lives as actions lead to the inevitable conclusion, which still is familiar, but in a different sense of the word.
Directed by Co-Founding Artistic Director Greg Tate, the story unfolds on four black platforms (Chris Brown, set and technical design) with minimal props and a few costume items (Gail freesia, design) that help the chorus members morph into supporting characters, most with surprising alacrity, though there are a few times when new characters or time frames aren't immediately clear. The members of the ensemble also had a hand in the creative process adding dialogue and staging. Poetry and lyrics are by Martinez with additional poetry by Mind evolution and MIRA.
Details about local cities help make the story personal and the result is that those seeing the show probably will never view a local drug arrest as just another story without wondering about the people involved.
Flipside continues through Oct. 29 on the ground floor of The Hollander building at 410 Asylum St., Hartford. Performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm. Tickets can be purchased by calling 860.548.9144 and are $20 with a discounted price of $15 for all seniors, students, and Let's Go Arts! members.
HartBeat Ensemble creates original, professional theater based on stories from the Hartford community. Through Mainstage plays, Open-Air performances and Education programs, HartBeat makes theater accessible beyond the barriers of class, race or gender.
No one is turned away for lack of funds.