The Death of the Last Black Man in the Entire World
Closed 1h 15m
The Death of the Last Black Man in the Entire World

The Death of the Last Black Man in the Entire World NYC Reviews and Tickets

(86 Reviews)
Members say
Confusing, Ambitious, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Disappointing

About the Show

Signature Theatre presents Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks' satirical exploration of how race and stereotype figure throughout history and literature.

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Member Reviews (86)

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Ambitious, Great staging, Edgy, Thought-provoking, Confusing

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

Ambitious, Clever, Confusing, Dizzying, Thought-provoking

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

Great staging, Intelligent, Relevant, Confusing, Disappointing

See it if You enjoy new, non-traditional, unconventional theatre that focuses on a timely issue or subject.

Don't see it if You dislike theatre that leverages poetic language and imagery as opposed to plot, or that is considered a "meditation" on a subject.

Ambitious, Clever, Great acting, Confounding, Symbolic

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.

Absorbing, Ambitious, Hypnotic, Great staging, Intelligent

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.

Great acting, Confusing, Masterful, Quirky, Resonant

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 Read more

Ambitious, Clever, Confusing, Dizzying, Edgy

See it if You enjoy experimental/eclectic theater. An interesting story told through cliches. A very visual story.

Don't see it if You are easily confused or need a linear story. This is not a linear story but a story told through visuals and repetition.

Great acting, Thought-provoking, Quirky, Confusing, Edgy

See it if you like non-traditional plays with very talented actors; Daniel Watts & Roslyn Ruff especially good

Don't see it if you would be frustrated trying to understand it or frustrated by repetitive, poetic, abstract dialogue Read more

Critic Reviews (29)

The New York Times
November 13th, 2016

"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."
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Time Out New York
November 13th, 2016

"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."
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New York Magazine / Vulture
November 15th, 2016

"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."
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New Yorker
November 28th, 2016

"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."
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The Hollywood Reporter
November 13th, 2016

"Despite an excellent production, this frustratingly oblique and elliptical play never comes into focus...Although the piece works on a certain visceral level, its failure to communicate its intellectual themes in remotely coherent fashion diminishes its intended power. It's certainly no fault of the performers...While one can certainly admire the literary and theatrical ambitions of this deliberately challenging play, it's a lot harder to actually enjoy it."
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November 13th, 2016

"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."
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New York Daily News
November 17th, 2016

"There are lots of obvious ways to die—like lynching, suffocation, electrocution. But there’s also erasure—and that’s even more insidious. That seems to be what Suzan-Lori Parks is saying in this 1990 meditation on mortality, history and race...It's bold and striking, but frustrating. One is left to grapple and wonder, What's going on? Then again, maybe that’s her point."
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November 14th, 2016

"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."
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November 16th, 2016

"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."
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Lighting & Sound America
November 23rd, 2016

"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. "
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Talkin' Broadway
November 13th, 2016

"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."
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December 5th, 2016

“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.”
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Theatre is Easy
November 14th, 2016

"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."
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Theater Pizzazz
December 2nd, 2016

"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."
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November 14th, 2016

"I'm a Parks fan...But this very colorful new-old play is not going anywhere near the top of my list of favorite Parks works...Lileana Blain-Cruz's handsome, music-infused production isn't enough to offset the inaccessibility of the experience...The entire ensemble is excellent, and all have standout moments...The vivacious performances and staging keep the audience engaged—even when more than a little confused."
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Front Row Center
November 15th, 2016

"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."
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Stage Buddy
November 17th, 2016

"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."
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November 23rd, 2016

"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."
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New York Theater
November 17th, 2016

"'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."
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November 13th, 2016

"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."
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The Wrap
November 14th, 2016

"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."
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Wolf Entertainment Guide
November 16th, 2016

"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."
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November 13th, 2016

"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."
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Financial Times (UK)
November 14th, 2016

"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."
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Off Off Online
December 4th, 2016

"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."
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November 18th, 2016

"Still, I must confess to finding 'The Death of the Last Black Man' largely impenetrable and frustrating. It is a play that reads better than it stages, that requires close attention to language that is impossible when it washes over you like it does in performance-even in a pitch-perfect production like this one."
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November 20th, 2016

"'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."
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Village Voice
November 16th, 2016

"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."
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Edge New York
November 16th, 2016

"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."
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