Three weeks before he is to start college at Johns Hopkins, a young African-American man named Dontrell (Eli Curry) has an unusually vivid dream of an ancestor that jumped into the ocean from a slave ship. When Dontrell wakes up, he wants to honor the dream but he’s not sure what it means. Is he supposed to go into the ocean, too? He doesn’t even know if he can swim.
When he jumps into a pool to find out, the lifeguard who pulls him out is Norwegian-American Erika (Ann Marie Elliott). They fall in love and she supports his quest. Dontrell’s mother (Milicent Wright) and father (Ben Rose) do not, at least not at first. Everyone in their family has had some kind of relationship with the sea and they were not all happy ones.
Nathan Alan Davis developed Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea while working on his MFA in Playwriting from Indiana University in Bloomington. This week the play received one of two Steinberg/American Theatre Critic Association citations
given annually in recognition of plays that premiered professionally outside New York City. It received a rolling world premiere in Indianapolis at the Phoenix Theatre last weekend.
I learned at a post-show talkback session with the playwright that the ending has changed quite a bit. I didn’t see the show when Davis was working on it Bloomington but I love the ending now. (Don’t worry, I’m not going to spoil it for you.)
Directed by Bryan Fonseca, this production beautifully highlights the shamanic qualities of Dontrell’s coming-of-age journey to create a healing experience for audiences of any lineage. It incorporates powerful dancing and drumming and some lovely technical surprises. The strong ensemble of actors also includes Dena Toler as Dontrell’s cousin, Shea; Paeton Chavis as his sister, Danielle; and Ollice Nickson as his best friend, Robbie.