Many of us have that relative or friend that we no longer talk to. Maybe it was something they said. Maybe it was something we did. Maybe it had to do with politics. The characters in Dominique Morisseau’s play “Sunset Baby” have complex reasons for not talking to each other. Face Off Theatre will perform the play January 4-7 at the Judy K. Jolliffe Theatre in Kalamazoo’s Epic Center.
The fictional play centers around Kenyatta and his adult daughter Nina. Kenyatta was an activist who was imprisoned for 25 years. Now that he’s been released, he’s trying to reconnect with Nina, but she’s reluctant. Nina's mother died and in her father’s absence, she's had to survive by selling drugs and working as a prostitute.
"I don’t know anyone but her and she knew me. She’s the only person who knew me. She’s dead and I’m a mystery to everyone else, got it?" Nina says in the play.
When Nina goes out, she wears a wig and heavy makeup. Charlotte Thomas — the understudy actress portraying Nina — calls this her “armor.”
“She gets into a mode and then you see when she takes her makeup off, you finally get a chance to see who Nina really is. She is very sentimental even though she has this hard persona about her,” Thomas said.
Buddy Hanna plays Kenyatta. He says back when Kenyatta was a revolutionary, getting close to his family could have put them in harm’s way.
“He can’t find the words to say that, you know, I’m sorry," Hanna said. "He feels guilty about not being there and he sees the life that she’s in and he want to take her out, because that’s not what he wanted for her.”
It’s not the life Nina’s boyfriend, Damon, wants for her either.
“He wants to slow down because of Nina, you know, he sees a future with Nina," said Duane Shabazz, who plays the role of Damon. "Unfortunately Nina doesn’t see a future with him and he knows that, but he ignores it.”
Face Off Theatre talked with the playwright Dominique Morisseau about “Sunset Baby.” She grew up in Detroit and now writes for the TV show “Shameless.”
Director Marissa Harrington says Morisseau told the theatre that she originally wrote this play about the complexity of love.
“How do we push through years of resentment or hate or conflict? And how do we push through that to find the love?” Harrington said.
In today's political climate, Morisseau said the play has taken on new meaning. When Kenyatta chose activism over his family, he not only damaged his relationship with Nina — but he neglected to impart that sense of justice on to her.
Harrington says she’s tried to continue that legacy with her own children:
“We’re taking our children to the marches. We’re teaching them about social equality. We’re teaching them about male and female equality and LGBTQ equality. We’re teaching our kids that so we can pass the legacy on and we’re not sacrificing the fight for the family.”
Face Off Theatre will perform “Sunset Baby” January 4-7 at the Judy K. Jolliffe Theatre in Kalamazoo’s Epic Center. Just a warning, the show does contain language and themes that are not appropriate for kids.