Joniece Abbott-Pratt and J. Alphonse Nicholson. Photo by Kristi Jan Hoover.
“I’ve never seen a sunset,” says Nina, a Brooklyn hustler who wants nothing more than to break away from her old life and travel the world. City Theatre’s Sunset Baby by Dominique Morisseau and directed by Jade King Carroll, running through December 13, tells Nina’s complex story and paints a bleak tableau of her harsh existence and her turbulent relationships with the men in her life.
Joniece Abbott-Pratt made her City Theatre debut playing Nina, the daughter of a deceased famous revolutionary in the black liberation movement, with power and grace. The character of Nina is seemingly all attitude, yet Abbott-Pratt managed to portray deeper emotions easily, often simply through a well-timed line or a subtle movement.
Nina’s boyfriend, Damon, is another character with some deep complexities. Outwardly a merciless hustler, there is a side of him that is tired of his life and makes him yearn for change. This role was played magnificently by J. Alphonse Nicholson, who at times had the audience convinced Damon was a good-natured romantic and would destroy that impression minutes later by showing his brutal, manipulative side.
What drives the plot is the appearance of Nina’s estranged father, also a former black revolutionary, who comes back into Nina’s life hoping to obtain some valuable letters that her mother wrote to him while he was in prison. Keith Randolph Smith was perfect for this role. With his deep, booming voice, he portrayed the passionate revolutionary as well as the regretful father, and he commanded the audience’s attention every time he entered the room.
The obvious themes in the play are of liberation and social justice, but themes of family and parenting emerge with great significance. In this family of revolutionaries, fatherhood winds up being the most demanding struggle that affects them all, requiring each of them to spark a revolution within themselves.
Sunset Baby, by Dominique Morisseau and directed by Jade King Carroll, runs through December 13 at City Theatre’s Hamburg Studio Theatre. Tickets at citytheatrecompany.org or 412-431-2489. Please note: This play contains strong language and adult themes.