Father comes home from the revolution in ‘Sunset Baby’ at Anacostia Playhouse

A Black political prisoner seeks reconciliation with his family in Dominique Morisseau's compelling and timely drama.

The story of a Black political prisoner who tries to reconcile with his family makes for a compelling hook. The themes of family, revolution, grief, trauma, and perhaps reconciliation will no doubt pique the curiosity of many. The re-emergence of Sunset Baby by playwright Dominique Morisseau to new audiences may feel timely given the political landscape. This production is only a hop-and-skip over at Anacostia Playhouse.

Nina, played by Tierra Burke, is grieving the loss of her mother and the ever-present loss of herself when, shockingly, a stranger from her past arrives at her front door. The larger-than-life myth of a revolutionary seeking redemption is none other than her father, Kenyatta Shakur, played by DeJeanette Horne, who delivers a deep belly-breathing performance. To Nina, he’s the man who abandoned her and her mother, but to others, he’s still that larger-than-life figure who fought for his people.

DeJeanette Horne as Kenyatta in ‘Sunset Baby.’ Photo by Trixie.

The misunderstandings between the father and daughter cling to the bare apartment walls that Nina calls home. The set design by Sidriel Conerly is sparse, mirroring the scarcity of Nina’s emotional life. She’s almost empty from being a caretaker to her mother’s drug addiction, a ride-or-die girlfriend to a manipulative hustler, and now a lonely daughter to a selfish father. The people in Nina’s life are more like broken lamps than beautifully colored sunsets.

Word on the street is that Nina has letters from her late, well-known, impactful revolutionary mother, Ashanti X. A mother to the movement, but a burden to her own child. All Nina has left of her mother are love letters to Kenyatta. These love letters awaken the greediest parts of Damon, Nina’s boyfriend. Shawn Sebastian Naar has complete mastery over this character. Naar’s performance and the dialogue emerge as some of the most intriguing parts of the play.

Damon is a stumbling block to Nina and a balm to her loneliness. Kenyatta and Damon seek to get over by using each other to get what they want: Kenyatta wants the letters, and Damon wants the cash. Nina is driven further into survival mode, doing what she can to stay afloat. What will Nina do? Will she let the sun set on her old life?

TOP: Tierra Burke as Nina and DeJeanette Horne as Kenyatta; ABOVE: Shawn Sebastian Naar as Damon and Tierra Burke as Nina, in ‘Sunset Baby.’ Photos by Trixie.

Director Deidra LaWan Starnes seeks to excavate the “real” in the experience and bring it to life on stage in Sunset Baby. The hand of the actor, now the director, is evident in the details of the actors’ performances and the nuance of their body language. The delivery of the dialogue is rhythmic and penetrating. However, the music design is distracting. It needs to be a prop, not another character.

The story of the misunderstood Black father and revolutionary who abandoned his family for his people, the drug addict mother, the toxic, manipulative boyfriend, and the daughter who carries the trauma like a baglady tries to tackle too many themes at once. It’s a vast undertaking that doesn’t fully come together. It’s hard to tell where this responsibility belongs. Is this something to address for the director or the writer? Is this something that plagues all of theater?

Still, this play is worth the 90 minutes without an intermission. It begs more questions than answers and calls us to reflect deeply on storytelling in theater, which is what art should accomplish—well done.

Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission

Sunset Baby plays through April 28, 2024, presented by Anacostia Playhouse at Anacostia Playhouse, 2016 Shannon Place SE, Washington, DC. Purchase tickets ($35–$50) online.

Sunset Baby
Based on the play by Dominique Morisseau
Directed by Deidra LaWan Starnes

Nina: Tierra Burke
Damon: Shawn Sebastian Naar
Kenyatta: DeJeanette Horne
Understudies: Jamie Swann (Nina), Joshua Prescott (Kenyatta/Damon)

Lighting Designer: Jerrett Harrington
Stage Manager: Melanie Burwell
Set Designer: Sidriel Conerly
Costume Designer: Frankie L. Bethea
Artistic Associate: Aakhu Freeman
Sound Designer: Melanie Burwell
Dramaturg: Ambree Feaster
Stage Manager: Angela Gilliam


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here