Signature Theatre presents Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks' satirical exploration of how race and stereotype figure throughout history and literature. More…
A woman tries to feed her husband a fried drumstick. Dragons roam a flat earth. The last Black man in the whole entire world dies again. And again. Careening through memory and language, Parks explores and explodes archetypes of Black America with piercing insight and raucous comedy. A riotous theatrical event, 'The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World AKA the Negro Book of the Dead' hums with the heartbeat of improvisational jazz.
"The language itself is playful and so is the delivery by these highly animated actors...We are seduced into the scenes by the precision of each spoken word and each movement on the stage...Blain-Cruz directs an ensemble that pulls our back off our seat cushion to listen and watch closely...I enjoyed the whole painful thing. I did laugh, too. There were funny bits. And many hours later, I turn it over and over again in my memory discovering more truths about humanity." Full Review
"An aesthetically stunning and emotionally evocative piece sure to resonate in the wake of a charged election, 'The Death of the Last Black Man' is a must-see...In the exceptional hands of director Lileana Blain-Cruz, Parks’ script shines...Together, Parks’ content and Blain-Cruz’s directorial choices transport us to a dream space, a liminality that is as beautiful as it is frightening...It feels like a disservice to attempt a description of this masterpiece; it simply begs to be experienced." Full Review
"Using the rich repetitive genres of jazz, spoken word, dance-theatre, and poetry, Ms. Parks’s play captures the attention of the audience and holds captive its aching heart and sin-sick soul for a powerfully unforgettable 75 minutes of cathartic ghoulish disquietude. Parks explores the underbelly of language in unique ways often setting diction and syntax uncomfortably at odds with the conventions of rhetoric to create a delicious tapestry of meaning and rich enduring questions." Full Review
"In her hypnotic, transcendent, and unfortunately titled play, 'The Death of the Last Black Man,' Parks creates a pool of pain and fear that’s sourced by a spring of raw, caustic wit. That wicked humor keeps bubbling up to the stormy surface to explode...It’s quite a show. Blain-Cruz directs as if Parks had handed her a musical comedy...Through an exquisite repetition, Parks makes the sounds of the words as important as the meaning...Must-see theatre." Full Review
"This exceptional production is directed by a great new talent, Lileana Blain-Cruz...The overlong full title tells us what it’s about, but not what it’s really about, which is language—the rich sound and implications of black English...Various characters take the stage individually but also move en masse: they are ideas about blackness clustering together, then separating, like beautiful molecules." Full Review
"A surreal, poetic meditation on the linked histories of slavery and colonialism…The play riffs on language and remixes racial stereotypes with boldness and grace, creating an experience that is both revelatory and irresistibly watchable…In beautiful choral interludes, the ensemble chants Parks's poetic refrains, which link colonialism to racism and underline the role of language in perpetuating it…These histories are bleak, but watching Parks's play is not." Full Review
"A dramatic trip like none you’ve ever taken. Suzan-Lori Parks has done it again – surprising us with a daring new work unlike any that she’s written before. This time, it’s in the form of a mesmerizing dramatic poem that deals with her favorite theme – namely, the history of the black man in America...It’s a playwright’s imagination gone wild, set free from the constraints of conventional theater…Lileana Blain-Cruz directs an inspired ensemble with appropriate flamboyance and flair." Full Review
"Feels like a bad dream. Frequently it’s difficult to make out quite what is going on...Centuries of crime and pain are here distilled into 75 minutes of harrowing yet sublime performance...Under Lileana Blain-Cruz’s precise direction, the 11 performers bring that dark vision to haunting life, marrying exquisitely restrained movement to the rich poetry of Parks’s language...This revival offers a powerful tonic at a time when America’s divisions seem starker than ever." Full Review
"'Last Black Man' isn't a polemical riff on the headlines...As directed by Blain-Cruz, it has a timeless quality, more like a dance piece or a symphony than a traditional narrative story...But now, the last black man's series of highly-stylized deaths...all also read as a blistering condemnation of society's physical brutality to African-American bodies and a paean to the Black Lives Matter movement. Few works have ever seemed more relevant in our political moment—or as worth seeing." Full Review
"At times, the text seems impossibly dense, at other times, it seems irritatingly repetitious. But it also evokes a world underpinned by dread that, I fear, is all too real for too many Americans…A strange experience, alternately gripping and mystifying -- but the overall effect is haunting…The piece benefits enormously from the precise, visually compelling staging by Blain-Cruz and a highly disciplined company…’The Death of the Last Black Man’ is a tough experience but a necessary one. " Full Review
"Hypnotic staging by Lileana Blain-Cruz...Those familiar with only Parks' more recent work may be rattled by the lack of any narrative foothold here...A combination of willful opacity and obvious symbolism, 'Death' can feel tedious if you strain to make sense of it. (It sometimes feels like a senior semiotics project.) But if you give yourself over to the sensory flow of Ms. Blain-Cruz’s production, the play acquires the eerie inevitability of a fever dream from which there is truly no waking." Full Review
"'Last Black Man' offers searing imagery mixed with repetitive auditory gibberish, words that exist far more for their effect as sounds than for their meaning — words as jazz...For most of us, the appeal of 'Last Black Man' rests largely with the production values. Director Blain-Cruz has assembled a first-rate design team...There is an impressive level of commitment from the cast...Some of these moments from a play written in 1990 feel alarming in their continuing relevance." Full Review
"Director Lileana Blain-Cruz's mock-celebratory pageant-like production is performed by a fine ensemble whose tongues are nimbly set within their cheeks...Typical of the earlier works of the future Pulitzer winner, the exact intention of the piece may not be easy to grasp, but it's still to be admired as an uninhibited abstract collage by a young voice who will eventually be recognized as one of the new century's most important playwrights." Full Review
"It’s most useful to approach it as jazz…Phrases repeat and transmogrify, creating the odd feeling of development without clarity; you never even settle into a location or time…You see how Parks invented her voice years ago by applying enough pressure to words to crack them…Parks wants to see what’s on the other side of language, and of history. On the evidence of this production, superbly directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz, it may not be pretty, or even coherent, but it’s beautiful." Full Review
"A jazzy, poetic fever dream about the wounds left by erasure on the book of history, this 1990 piece seems especially shocking when you consider the grotesque chapter our country’s chroniclers are about to inscribe...This is not an easy play to dissect or digest...It’s a jagged, angry, weird text, yet director Lileana Blain-Cruz stages it in high style, with a skin-prickling soundscape (including dance-break music that’s aggressively fun) and a raft of brave in-your-face performances." Full Review
"Parks’ text is aurally opulent but, on first encounter, it’s as perplexing as Ezra Pound’s 'Cantos'...Supervised by resourceful director Lileana Blain-Cruz and choreographer Raja Feather Kelly, the current production has the grandeur of a pageant and, thanks to a top-notch creative team, it’s visually enticing throughout...No theatergoer is likely to be unmoved by the final moments of this unnamed man, played with force and nobility by the superb Daniel Watts." Full Review
"This rarely produced political work has maintained its razor-sharp ferociousness while highlighting Parks' adverse fearlessness as an artist. Delphic, opaque, speculative, mystifying and oracular, the ensemble show is at once fundamentally perplexing and emotionally overpowering…Enigmatic and even stupefying at bouts one thing is certain...Signature's latest revival of ‘The Death of the Last Black Man' is a cathartic fever dream of transgressive art." Full Review
"In Lileana Blain-Cruz’s energetic production, the characters dance and bound across the stage, reenacting Black Man’s many deaths...It makes for a challenging and abstruse piece of theater, one that may not be satisfying to those seeking a neat and moralizing social drama...Even so, there’s something valuable and vital here. Now, as much as ever, black bodies, even and especially the dead ones, have stories that need to be told and discovered and learned anew." Full Review
"Signature Theatre’s expert revival of her little-known 1990 dance-theater poem...None of this is as remotely linear as it sounds in director Lileana Blain-Cruz’s self-mocking and serious production, as much of an ordeal as an enchantment...A man actually chokes out the words, 'I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,' a scene that seems to step directly from today’s headlines. 'Write it down,' urges a young woman with pigtail bows all over her head. And in 1990, Parks wrote it down." Full Review
"Handsomely staged, evocative revival...Your response to the work might parallel how you feel about a free-form jazz session, one filled with meditative riffs and theatrical flourishes...The charismatic presence of the acting company and the hypnotic precision of Blain-Cruz’ direction help in the beguilement, but it can still be a challenge for the talented company to create an emotional bond longer than lasts longer than an impulse." Full Review
“Every writer, including MacArthur ‘Genius’ Award winner, Suzan-Lori Parks, had to start somewhere with early works that don't quite measure up to their more mature output yet indicate ingenuity and imagination. Her ‘The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World AKA The Negro Book of the Dead’ (1990) displays her genius for language but a beginner's passion for overwriting, throwing in way too many allusions in too many styles.” Full Review
"It holds your feet right to the fire, forcing a reflection on the recorded history (or lack thereof) of African-American heritage with a nonlinear story that is difficult to parse...If you're up for a mental and emotional challenge, Parks' poetic one-act is worth meditating on at this unsettled social and political juncture...We're left to wander aimlessly around the play without a map or key. Even within this obscure narrative, Roslyn Ruff's stunning performance registers loud and clear." Full Review
"If you look for a traditional plot, you will be bewildered. The strength of the play is its dynamic flow of image-evoking statements provided by the acting ensemble as members interpret the text. The play’s force also comes from its strength as spectacle. However, one can criticize it as being too esoteric, even as one appreciates the author’s creative take in trying to make her points in a manner very different from customary approaches." Full Review
"In principle, I admire the decision to mount such a complex, significant work, but in actuality I found it tough to sit through. The cast of 11 perform with total commitment...The choreography by Raja Feather Kelly provided some of the most enjoyable moments...Lileana Blain-Cruz’s direction is fluid. What the play lacks in coherence, it almost makes up for in sheer energy. Unfortunately for me, I prefer coherence." Full Review
"A credible but not quite electrifying Signature Theatre revival...Fascinating but scattershot play...A little of it does go a long way, and even at 75 minutes 'The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World' feels overlong...History, in other words, does not exactly come alive. But maybe it doesn't need to—its arrival at all makes it possible for us to commit it to posterity, so that we'll never forget the identity of the black man who was eternally searching for it." Full Review
See it if you are open to a non-linear difficult-to-comprehend immersive experience that is, dare I say, transformative.
Don't see it if you're looking to merely be entertained or want to understand concretely what just happened to you immediately without giving yourself time.
See it if you want an experience that's more than entertainment, you want to learn from Parks, see great acting, come to your own conclusions
Don't see it if you want a narrative/are confused by a lack of one. This is an avant-garde, ritualistic, episodic piece. It's not an August Wilson play.
See it if you enjoy a tight, precise ensemble, you enjoy poetry, you don't mind being challenged.
Don't see it if you're uncomfortable with racial stereotypes, you need an immediately clear, linear plot, you don't enjoy repetition or repetition.
See it if you are interested in one of Suzan-Lori Parks' early plays, brought up to date with some striking imagery. Stunning staging!
Don't see it if you need a solid beginning, middle, and end. Imagery is what is important here.
See it if you can sit back and let this extraordinary work "happen to you" without "getting" everything. An expressionistic history lesson.
Don't see it if you expect a traditional linear play that let's you understand every moment. This is a jazz theme and variation of African American history
See it if You admire the works of SUZAN-LORI PARKS. You like historical drama with and emotional edge. You appreciate great acting and imagery.
Don't see it if You are looking for a fluffy night out. You are uninterested in racial relations in our country. You are unprepared to sit with confusion.
See it if Fantastic humor with a bitter touch of reality. The actor will bring you the joy of theater on a platter called laughter, they are good.
Don't see it if you don't like serious drama that makes you laugh at your every day life on planet earth, forget attending this play.
See it if You like theater that is thought provoking and avant-garde in its presentation.
Don't see it if You need to have a linear narrative and don't like theater that is more experimental in nature.
See it if you want to see something different. It makes you think, and it is not for everyone, but it is very interesting.
Don't see it if you are triggered by people struggling to breathe. There is a significant amount of gasping for breath at one point.
See it if You like plays that make you think, and afterwards you discuss them with friends to figure them out;about the rise of Afro-American heritage
Don't see it if You are easily confused and do not like dialogue that seems nonsensical;expect a conventional storyline
See it if You like non-linear theater with tropes, great acting and costumes and inspired use of music/sound and costumes.
Don't see it if You like straight-forward, linear, plot driven plays.
See it if you enjoy more experimental or non-traditional storytelling, you appreciate theater that challenges you and makes you think
Don't see it if you only like shows with straightforward storytelling or dialogue, discussions of race & racism make you uncomfortable
See it if You enjoy reflections on race & society and you are comfortable with loosely structured narrative - this is more poetry in motion then plot
Don't see it if You are expecting Father Comes Home From the War type narrative - this is an earlier work and much more abstract
See it if you like to be challenged, enjoy non-traditional timeline plays, open minded, love irony and pain that comes along with irony
Don't see it if you prefer traditional time-line productions -prefer a clear cut story
See it if Parks' jazz/hip-hop tone poem about the death of an average black man who symbolically morphs into the entire black race. Brilliant staging
Don't see it if Vibrant cast keeps us energized despite chaotic, non-linear structure. Has more of a poetry slam quality rather than narrative. Tough going
See it if you'd like to see something that feels more like slam poetry interpretive dance than a play. Theater equivalent to avant-guard jazz
Don't see it if you want to be able to understand a reason for everything that is happening in front of you. This is very abstract & purposefully confusing
See it if you are interested in poetic, experimental pieces that deal with the history of race and culture in an inventive way
Don't see it if you want something with a straightforward narrative, or aren't looking to be challenged as an audience member
See it if you enjoy rhythmic, spoken word-esque theatrical pieces, and are interested in the commentaries on racial injustice.
Don't see it if you want a more "beginning, middle, end" plot focused theatrical piece, you do not care to listen to pieces focus on race and injustice.
See it if You like non-linear performances; you are interested in a non-traditional poetic performance with intriguing choreography
Don't see it if Don't see it if you're not interested in hearing an African-American writer stretch language and theatricality.
See it if you like great ensemble acting and interesting staging; satire; dark humor; symbolic representations of the history of racism.
Don't see it if you want a linear, concrete story that always makes sense; getting the gist of the play is not enough for you.
See it if you're a Parks fan & want to see an early work that uses cliched images from black history to make profound, unsettling points
Don't see it if You're bothered by chanting and repeated lines, digressive and non-linear storytelling, no real character development, political messages
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