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The tragically brief life expectancy for black men born in America is one of the subjects of Word Becomes Flesh, a piece that poet Marc Bamuthi Joseph first performed as a solo play nearly 15 years ago. Initially conceived as a series of letters to his unborn son, Word has evolved over many subsequent productions, splitting Bamuthi’s monologue into parts for five performers and incorporating contributions by some of these additional cast members. Theater Alliance’s Helen Hayes Award-winning production incorporates material from Khalil Anthony and Dahlak Barthwaite, who were in a touring version of the show that came to the Atlas Performing Arts Center in 2013. (That cast also included future Hamilton standout Daveed Diggs.)
All of which is to say: Check out the five ringers doing this show now, while you can still see them for a double-digit ticket price. Theater Alliance and director Psalmayene 24 have reunited the full company from their celebrated 2016 run—Louis E. Davis, Chris Lane, Clayton Pelham Jr., Gary L. Perkins III, and Justin Weaks, who was so, well, haunting in his video-only role as the ghost in Kathleen Akerley’s Whipping, or The Football Hamlet—for another month at the Anacostia Playhouse, with an eye toward sending the production to high schools thereafter. That’s a superb idea. Word Becomes Flesh aggressively confronts stereotypes of young black men as irresponsible and violent, and of theater as bloodless and boring. (Okay, there’s some substantiation for the latter.)
The show compresses the full emotional panorama of youthful exuberance giving way to parental obligation in 65 breathless minutes, its five messengers dancing all the while. (The choreography is by Tony Thomas II.) There’s a particularly powerful passage that breaks down the etymology and consequence of a vicious epithet unforgettably. This is black masculinity, surveyed with sensitivity and insight. If you slept on it last year, wake up.
At Anacostia Playhouse to Oct. 8. 2020 Shannon Place SE. $30-$40. (202) 290-2328. theateralliance.com.