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Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea
by Nathan Alan Davis
Directed by Ron Himes
The Black Rep
July 8, 2022

Lakesha Glover, Christian Kitchens, Claire McClannan, Mekhi Mitchell, Lucia Graff
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Black Rep

The Black Rep is taking audiences on a vivid, emotional journey in its latest production. Something of visual poem as well as a quest story, Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea features lavish production values, strong performances, and a mixture of drama, music, and dance to tell its engaging story.  It’s a rich, intriguing portrayal of a young man’s exploration into the past, the future, and the vast unknown of the sea.

The basic story follows Dontrell Jones III (Christian Kitchens), an 18-year-old from Baltimore who is already seen as somewhat unconventional in his family, although he has a lot of promise. He makes journal entries addressed to “future generations” on his microcassette recorder, and, although he is a bright student who has been given a full Scholarship to Johns Hopkins, his mother (Lakesha Glover) is concerned that he might not go, as he is now determined to follow the direction of a dream he’s had, involving a long-lost ancestor who was apparently lost at sea while being transported on a slave ship from Africa. Despite his family’s concern, Dontrell is single-minded in his goal to get to the ocean to somehow communicate with his ancestor. In the course of the story, we also learn about Dontrell’s more recent ancestors, including his somewhat secretive father Dontrell, Jr. (Olajuwon Davis), and his grandfather, the original Dontrell, who apparently had been committed to a mental asylum. In his quest to get to the sea, Dontrell seeks help from his cousin Shea (Brannon Evans), who works at the aquarium, asking her for diving gear. To the bewilderment and confusion of his family and friends, including his sister Danelle (Lucia Graff) and childhood best friend Robby (Mekhi Mitchell), Dontrell persists in his efforts. He eventually meets Erika (Claire McClannon), a lifeguard at the local pool, when she rescues him from drowning after he jumps into the deep end, even though he hasn’t learned to swim. Dontrell and Erika form an instant bond, as well as a romantic connection, and she supports him on his quest. Will he finally achieve his goal and get to the sea? If he does, will he find his long-lost ancestor? And what will he learn if and when he does reach his goal? That’s what you will find out as you follow this compelling story full of emotion, history, symbolism, and heart.

I have to admit that I wasn’t always entirely sure what was going on as the story played out in more and more fantastical ways, but for the most part, it appears to be a coming of age story with the idea that each individual has to make their own way, and figure out their own goals in life–with connection to the past and hope for the future. There’s a good deal about reckoning with secrets and injustices in this past, as well, but this story mostly plunges forward even as Dontrell seeks to find a connection with those who have gone before him. He’s an explorer in a real sense, and witnessing his journey is a dazzling spectacle as portrayed at the Black Rep, with truly stunning visual effects, with a vivid, nautically-inspired set by Emma Hoffbrauer, dynamic projections by Margery and Peter Spack, dazzling lighting by Jasmine Williams, and superb sound design by Jackie Sharp. There are also richly appointed costumes by Daryl Harris and fluid, lyrical choreography by Heather Beal, as the stylized blends with the more realistic in the unfolding of this grand, evocative journey.

The stellar cast is led by a supremely likable, determined Kitchens as the the quirky, somewhat nerdy, single-minded Dontrell. He’s an amiable hero of this quest, and he’s well supported by the rest of the strong ensemble. Davis and Glover are excellent as Dontrell’s parents, both having several memorable moments, and McClannon is also strong as the supportive Erika, who has dealt with some family drama of her own. Evans, Graff, and Mitchell lend their support with strong performances of their own, and the whole cast works together well in the more stylized, movement-centered moments. 

Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea is a unique theatrical experience. It’s also highly thoughtful, thought-provoking, and emotional, with well-paced staging and a first-rate cast. It’s another example of true excellence from the Black Rep.

Cast of Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Black Rep

The Black Rep is presenting Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea at Washington University’s Edison Theatre until July 24, 2022

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