A resonant vision on view in ‘The Window King’ at Live Garra Theatre

Bless ji Jaja's engrossing new play prompted by a terminated pregnancy is both timeless and right on time.

The Window King is an engrossing new play prompted by a terminated pregnancy told in the context of a love relationship and a neighborhood community. Written by Bless ji Jaja and programmed by Live Garra Theatre prior to the devastating decision in Dobbs, The Window King pulses with a poignant originality that is both timeless and right on time.

What distinguishes Jaja’s story from familiar and vital narratives about a woman’s right to choose is that The Window King is more about the complex dynamics between the man and the woman whose fetus she has chosen to abort than it is about the right of the woman to her own body (which in The Window King is a given). Thus in the touching and turbulent interplay between Mechelle (Brittney Dubose) and Evan (James Curtis Bowers) — a young Black couple who live together in her Park Slope Brooklyn apartment — we become absorbed in a story that is neither pro-life nor pro-choice necessarily but fundamentally pro-love. We are also drawn into a vortex of the supernatural.

“I love our rapport,” Evan says when things are good between them. “I love our rapport too,” says Mechelle. For the audience, the feeling is mutual. At times the two really hit it off.

Brittney Dubose as Mechelle and James Curtis Bowers as Evan in ‘The Window King.’ Photo courtesy of Live Garra Theatre.

But as the play begins, things are not good between them. It’s been one month since Michelle’s abortion, and Evan has inexplicably been away for two days. (Turns out he was visiting his ex.) Evan didn’t want a child so Michele had the abortion because she loved him. (It happens.) Now their relationship is “in limbo” and “at an impasse.”

Even more troublingly, an apparition has appeared in their apartment window, plainly visible from the street, of a mother and child. Gawkers who believe it to be a vision of Mary and the infant Jesus have been gathering outside on the street. Evan dismisses the sight as a “Rorschach inkblot.” Michelle, in deep distress, believes, “This image is a sign that we did the wrong thing.”

From those potent circumstances arises, in Jaja’s provocative telling, an interpersonal relationship drama with so much resonance — spiritual, romantic, cultural, political — that at times the story seems to want to leap outside what its straight-play form can contain.

The uncredited set is a spacious living room backed by a wall-size projection of a high-ceiling interior with a large window on which appears the blurry apparition. Beneath the window is a flaming fireplace, upstage right is a home office (Mechelle, we learn, recently quit grad school), and downstage right is a home boxing gym (Evan, we learn, aspires to a boxing career à la Jack Johnson: “I’m young. I’m pretty. I hit hard”). Suspended surreally above is an abstract assemblage of window frames. The expanse of the set makes for distanced blocking that often has the characters conversing from furniture far apart. It works. This is no small-scale domestic drama.

About 30 minutes in there comes a startling frame-breaking scene, ingeniously conceived by Director Wanda Whiteside, when Evan and Mechelle spar — literally with boxing gloves on and verbally in the play’s best badinage. She’s his trainer, she wants him to succeed, she wanted him to fight for their child.

(The bell rings.)
Evan: (Steps forward.) Okay, let me start by saying this. And I don’t mean to sound stereotypic, but our problem is nothing more than a classic case of a brother being all things at all times to his one woman.
Mechelle: I’m asking too much of you?…And just what am I asking too much of? ’Cause from my vantage point, it’s just one thing: Your commitment. Now you call that being all things at all times?

Evan: More of your support will get more of my commitment.
Mechelle: Evan, how much more supportive can I be! I have a freaking punching bag in my apartment! How much more supportive can I be!? Your first three months here was rent free!

In the aggression and affection fueled by their fury and fondness, Mechelle literally lands a few punches — which Evan never returns in kind. And the electric physicality between Dubose and Bowers will later play out viscerally when Mechelle tells Evan, “Make love to me. Let’s bring back our child.” (Jonathan Ezra Rubin choreographed the fights and intimacy masterfully.)

Nadia Palacios as Victoria, Todd Leatherbury as Donnelan, Brittney Dubose as Mechelle, and James Curtis Bowers as Evan in ‘The Window King.’ Photo courtesy of Live Garra Theatre.

Three other characters drop in, a little awkwardly but rewardingly. The first, Donnelan (Todd Leatherbury), is a white paranormal investigator. He determines that the window image doesn’t photograph, it doesn’t rub off, it’s not grime, and it appears to be embedded in the pane visible only to the naked eye. (Donellan has a nice comic turn during the sparring scene when he plays the referee on a mic as a hip-hop rapper.)

The emotion in the window mystery mounts with the arrival of Victoria (Nadia Palacios), a Latino mother from the neighborhood who is desperate for a miracle to faith-heal her hospitalized daughter. She believes Michelle to be a “conduit”; she wants Michele to come make her daughter well. Palacios plays Victoria’s acute pain palpably, and Mechelle’s rejection of Victoria’s request is drenched in self-recrimination: “I take life, I don’t heal it.”

James Curtis Bowers as Evan and Nadia Palacios as Jazel in ‘The Window King.’ Photo courtesy of Live Garra Theatre.

After an injurious boxing match that Evan loses, Palacios returns playing his mother, Jazel. From her we learn how Evan was abandoned as a child by his father. There also comes a gripping scene when Dubose portrays Mechelle spasmodically possessed as if by a spirit.

There’s lots more to the story, and it’s a narrative spine that can accommodate embellishment. As it happens, Live Garra Theatre Artistic Director Wanda Whiteside, who directed this production with great sensitivity, intends to turn The Window King into a musical, with plans to open it in May 2023. In its present showcase shape, it’s well worth catching — not least for the promise of emotionally musicalizable moments inherent in its resonant plot, compelling central relationship, and evocative, overarching mystery.

Running Time: Approximately one hour 40 minutes, including a 10-minute intermission.

The Window King plays through November 20, 2022, presented by Live Garra Theatre performing at the Silver Spring Black Box Theatre, 8641 Colesville Road, Silver Spring, MD. Purchase tickets ($35 adult, $25 student/senior) online.

COVID Safety: All patrons must wear masks at all times when inside the building except when actively eating or drinking. Live Garra Theatre’s complete COVID-19 Policy is here.

The Window King
By Bless ji Jaja

Brittney Dubose: Mechelle Arzo
James Curtis Bowers: Evan Mitchell
Todd Leatherbury: Donnelan
Nadia Palacios: Victoria Hierra / Jazel Mitchell

Wanda Whiteside: Director
Jonathan Ezra Rubin: Fight/Intimacy Director
Jerrett M. Harrington: Lighting Technician
Jay Perrin: Stage Manager

Live Garra Theatre, Inc endeavors to employ the cultural arts as a way to address universal social-life issues: to illuminate all facets of a multicultural society, fostering cross-cultural understanding of the many ethnic voices in the community, reinforcing the value of diversity, strengthening the social connections among people. The word “garra” literally means claws — to hold on and to “live Garra” (Portuguese for prevail) means to go the distance and never give up.

As a resident company of the Theatre Consortium of Silver Spring, the organization operates out of the Silver Spring Black Box Theatre as a performance training studio, an incubator for a core repertory of skilled poets, playwrights, and artists, as well as providing a “safe harbor” for the youth. Live Garra Theatre aspires to fill the void of culturally specific theater, preserving the unique legacy of the African-American heritage and contributing to the survival of Black Theater.

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John Stoltenberg
John Stoltenberg is executive editor of DC Theater Arts. He writes both reviews and his Magic Time! column, which he named after that magical moment between life and art just before a show begins. In it, he explores how art makes sense of life—and vice versa—as he reflects on meanings that matter in the theater he sees. Decades ago, in college, John began writing, producing, directing, and acting in plays. He continued through grad school—earning an M.F.A. in theater arts from Columbia University School of the Arts—then lucked into a job as writer-in-residence and administrative director with the influential experimental theater company The Open Theatre, whose legendary artistic director was Joseph Chaikin. Meanwhile, his own plays were produced off-off-Broadway, and he won a New York State Arts Council grant to write plays. Then John’s life changed course: He turned to writing nonfiction essays, articles, and books and had a distinguished career as a magazine editor. But he kept going to the theater, the art form that for him has always been the most transcendent and transporting and best illuminates the acts and ethics that connect us. He tweets at @JohnStoltenberg. Member, American Theatre Critics Association.


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