Celestial Fluidity and the Genius of Mankwe Ndosi – “dat Black Mermaid Man Lady” at PHT


Photo by Rich Ryan.

dat Black Mermaid Man Lady / The Show enchants with a four person acting ensemble that flows and glows in a stream-of-subconsciousness parade. This quartet masters sumptuously lyrical language, dissolving gender and the finitude of earth-bound space itself beyond the American South setting. At certain points, Mankwe Ndosi’s vocal compositions, beguilingly rendered by the actors, border on sublimity. Yoruba spirituality and gospel blend celestially among other elements, including echoes of Hip Hop, Jazz and Soul.

dat Black Mermaid Man Lady, created by Sharon Bridgforth, honors ancestors and you can even write a note of your own to be left at an altar in the Pillsbury House lobby. In that space the show begins with a processional that descends the stairs and onward into the theater where the audience follows. Spectators take seats as the cast takes the stage. Kenyai O’Neal dazzles as a transfiguring character who crosses lines between genders. Fellow performers PaviElle French, Florinda Bryant, and Aimee K. Bryant exude vocal and physical fluidity as if manifesting phantoms. They seem to conjure a brave new dimension where tolerance, acceptance, ease, and celebration of otherness are headed toward hegemony.

Director Ebony Noelle Golden’s inspirationally sensuous staging achieves that rare theatrical magic: you actually feel as if you exist in a dream realm, rather than as simply a flesh and blood human on a seat watching. Christopher Heilman’s set, with numerous streamers hanging from above overlooking a minimalist stage mileu, is enhanced by Michael Wangen’s lovely lighting. Other design elements also add wondrous effect: Nicole DelPizzo’s scenic painting, Kellie Larson’s props, and Sonya Berlovitz’s costumes.

dat Black Mermaid Man Lady / The Show
Through June 24
Pillsbury House Theatre, 3501 Chicago Ave., Minneapolis

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