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Theater Review: Black Cypress Bayou

Angela Lewis, Kimberly Scott, Amber Chardae Robinson and Brandee Evans in Black Cypress Bayou. Photo by Erik Carter.

In a clearing in a tall grove of cypress trees lit by moonlight, a radio plays, setting a very specific geographical location and time. We are in far-east Texas, 20 miles from the Louisiana border, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, August 2020. This is bayou country, with a touch of the supernatural and a certain level of racial mistrust. The edgy environment made edgier by the rampant virus that has killed “half the town.”

Black Cypress Bayou, an energetic and engaging world premiere at the Geffen Playhouse, jumps right in. A wild and hilarious mother (Kimberly Scott as Vernita Manifold) has summoned her two daughters to the clearing on the pretext of a fishing expedition. Her COVID-fearful daughter (Brandee Evans as LadyBird Manifold) is first to arrive, mask firmly in place despite being outdoors. LadyBird is a vegan who works in a slaughterhouse, a job that keeps her on the verge of poverty, living off care packages from the church.

A basket containing a white man’s head is sitting by a tree. It appeared on Mama’s porch and she recognizes it as belonging to Clayton Rutherford, the richest man in East Texas, and someone with whom the Manifold family has history going back generations.

LadyBird’s sister RaeMeka Manifold-Baker (Angela Lewis) shows up late and raises an already-high energy level. Secrets are spooled out in a most satisfying way, creating suspense through unique mysteries, then solving them right at the moment that the audience is most stumped.

Mama is the teller of family stories, but she picks and chooses what is shared, about ancestors and the family’s past. That’s until this night, when, ultimately, all is revealed. That includes a key and surprising revelation in the ethereal form of Taysha Hunter (Texas native Amber Chardae Robinson). By the end, the familial bonds that seemed to be endangered may just end up stronger than ever, through healing born on the bayou.

Black Cypress Bayou runs through March 17 at the Geffen Playhouse’s Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater. Almost all performances are sold out, so act quickly to see this highly recommended show (or hope for an extension!).

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Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen has lived in the Brookside neighborhood since 1993. She works as a freelance writer, editor and consultant. She's also a playwright affiliated with Theatre West.

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