By Walter Rutledge
The Joyce Theater’s fall 2023 season began September 15 with the interdisciplinary gay romance saga Heart of Brick. The theatrical production combined live vocal music, spoken narrations, voiceovers, dance, lighting and a clean, simple set design to recreate an evening at Langstons, New York City’s oldest Black gay bar. This is the first presentation in Director of Programming Danni Gee augural season, and in the truest downtown dance style she left the audience with something to talk about.
Heart of Brick is the brainchild of creator Josiah Wise aka serpentwithfeet, who plays Serpent the lead protagonist, narrator and vocalist. His opening monolog immediately engaged the theatergoers, removing the “fourth wall”. His warm, personable and loquacious delivery charmed the audience and invited us into his bedroom while he ponders an evening at Langstons.
This strong collaborative work also showcased the talents of visual artist/director Wu Tsang, choreographer/dramaturg Raja Feather Kelly, set designer Carlos Soto and lighting designer Luke Rolls. The 80-minute one act also included nine original songs performed by serpentwithfeet, which assisted in propelling the tone and pacing.
We finally are introduced to the six member all male dance ensemble as they also prepared for an evening at the bar. Kelly’s subtle and almost understated approach and the dancer’s interpretation and interaction established a sense of camaraderie. The group would best be described as a “gaggle of butch queens”- a sextet of friends, kind of like a queer Sex in the City. The dancers moved in individual phrases set to a voiceover and together as individuals they created the excitement and anticipation of the coming revelry.
Serpent and the dancers meet on the line to enter the club and are confronted by the club bouncer and “trade de jour” Brick (Dylan M. Contreras) Once inside they dance, move and slither through Kelly’s stylized club choreography. Small group, pairs and solos movement seductively filled Langstons and eventually erupted into a spontaneous burst of unison dancing. Although dance was not the primary disciple it was cleverly used as a strong supportive element.
At times the performers framed the primary action resembling background dancers in a music concert. In one pure dance moment the ensemble moved in a circular pattern rhythmically punctuated with vertacle jumps. The imagery was mesmerizing and tribal. The entire performing ensemble, Chrystian Dudley, Justin Daniels, Brando Gray, Nelson “Nellie” Enrique Mejia Jr., Shaquelle Charles, Matthew Deloch, Contreras and serpentwithfeet were stellar. All exuded a commitment to their character coupled with a confident and technically proficient execution.
Set designer Carlos Soto created multi environments simply by opening and closing a series of layered sheer floor to ceiling curtains. The simplicity continued inside the bar with a set consisting of a neon Martini glass and a ballet barre which substituted for Langstons bar continued the focused minimalism. Luke Rolls’ atmospheric lighting complemented the set and assisted in transported us from bedroom to bar and back again.
Director Wu Tsang may want to revisit two transitions; when Serpent runs downstage right and jetes into a rectangular pool of light, and after his eighth song Deep End. In both act two instances the fade to black created false endings causing the audience to applaud in a manner and energy befitting the works culmination.
In closing Heart of Brick was a fun and nostalgic romp through the adventures in Black queer New York City. I won’t be a spoiler, but the ending will leave you with a happily ever after smile on your face. The production runs through September 22 for tickets and more information visit https://www.joyce.org/fall-23-winter-24.