Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
August, 2000

The story of personal redemption through art is one of the favourite clichés in the Fringe book, and potentially highly self-regarding into the bargain. Place it in an East Harlem setting before a Traverse audience, and the possibility also arises of comfortable theatre-goers buying a convenient, pre-packaged and deodorised slice of street reality. Dael Orlandersmith's solo prose-poem performance runs all these risks, but soars gloriously above them to create an affecting and memorable piece which is the highlight of my Fringe so far this year.

Orlandersmith's apparently semi-autobiographical tale follows her own alter ego Alexis and best friend Jimmy as they discover, respectively, words and painting in their East Harlem childhood. Alexis is nurtured by a librarian mentor, Jimmy adopted by the downtown gallery set but soon falls into the quagmire of ho's and shooting galleries, into which Alexis determines to follow him. The verbal motif of "the gimmick" sometimes means a way of escape, sometimes – in the words of the Marvin Gaye song which bookends the 80-minute performance – a knowledge of "what's goin' on", sometimes a sordid combination: "hustle and gimmick".

Orlandersmith's language and characterisations are consistently compelling, and director Angus Farquhar places them in a discreet but powerfully supportive stage and sound setting. A creation of beauty.

Written for the Financial Times Web site,

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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