Dael Orlandersmith’s solo show Forever opens at Jim Morrison’s grave in the famed Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, where the playwright has come to connect with her “ancestors”. At age 11, the artist was cleaning the floor at her home in Harlem in preparation for her mother’s weekly Saturday night drunk with her friends. It was then that she heard The Doors’ “Light My Fire” for the first time. And when she heard the organ solo, “I knew there was something more.”
Thus begins Dael Orlandersmith’s tour de force performance at Portland Center Stage.
As Orlandersmith’s story moves forward, the audience learns about the playwright’s life both as an artist, and in the days before she knew who she was. It’s a visceral tale filled with anger and violence, fear and despair, the coming of age of a young woman who had little to cling to until she found Jim Morrison…and Richard Wright…and Patti Smith.
This is a powerful 75-minute drama wherein the playwright holds nothing back. Even years after the events she remembers, her voice still trembles and then roars with anger and hurt. It is a gut-wrenching performance, and worth every minute.
The audience is wrung out when at last we return to the ghosts in a cemetery–Edith Piaf, Chopin, Colette, Oscar Wilde–ancestors whose conversations are whispered between the headstones in a language Orlandersmith and people like her can hear and understand. “I want to eat and drink with my ancestors!” she says. And eventually she does.
Orlandersmith was nominated for the 2015 Off-Broadway Alliance Award for Best Solo Performance in Forever. Her play Yellowman was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She currently is working on a play about the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri for the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.
A special nod is due director Neel Keller. It is hard to imagine a solo show like this without an excellent director. Keller has been with the show since its 2014 world premiere in Los Angeles. He has known the playwright for 30 years, and is said to be pleased that she still speaks to him!
Forever runs through March 20th in the Gerding Theatre’s Ellyn Bye Studio.
To my readers: please leave a comment below telling when you knew there was “something more”. If you see Forever, please comment on how you have dealt with your “ancestor” issues. Many thanks.