Clothes are important signifiers up at Source’s 14th Street space, too. That’s where the African Continuum Theatre Company and the Everyday Theatre Youth Ensemble are staging Jennifer Nelson’s Torn From the Headlines, a musical about the dangers of straying from the straight and narrow. Bread (D’Monroe) starts dealing drugs as a means of escaping the aimlessness and poverty of his neighborhood; he talks his homies Rev (Jamar Hood) and Lard (Gary Vincent) into signing on as well, but his oldest friend, Tookie (Terry Kemp), doesn’t want to let go of his dreams of rapper stardomand besides, he promised his grandmother he’d stay away from Jamaican Freddy, the neighborhood supplier and pimp (Randall Shepard). Soon enough, Bread’s making plenty of money and wearing really nice warm-up suits, but he’s still got problems: His girlfriend Shavonne (LaTarsha Hall) announces that she’s pregnant, and when she finds out he’s been sleeping around, demands that both of them take an HIV test. Meanwhile, Tookie’s hiphop dreams die hard, and he slides into alcohol and drug abuse; eventually, he comes to Bread wearing torn sweat pants and begging for a fix, which prompts a fit of soul-searching. The result is as predictable as the rest of the plot, which is to say, very: Torn From the Headlines isn’t really a piece of musical theater; it’s a thinly disguised sermon with a few songs scattered throughout.
Even those don’t help much. Eddie Drennon’s tunes (particularly a doo-wop hymn to the joys of firepower) are cute but not particularly clever, and they don’t advance the action. Worse, they’re so widely spaced that you occasionally forget you’re watching a musical. But the driving rhythms of the opening dance number are infectious, and the gospel-inflected finale is stirring despite its vaguely incoherent text.
Nelson, who also directs, doesn’t do much to make her script come to life. Everything’s staged in fairly straightforward fashion; the exception is a striking series of surreal dance sequences involving a kind of guardian ancestral spirit (impressively danced by Sherman D. Farmer) who both predicts and tries to prevent Bread’s missteps.
Still, D’Monroe’s performance makes the evening worthwhile. The rest of the cast is adequate, but he’s amazing: needy and vulnerable, brash and threatening, and desperately looking for answers even while he’s claiming to have all of them. His immensely self-assured performance gives the show more weight than it has otherwise earned.CP