Presented by Company One Theatre
Written by Josh Wilder
Directed by Summer L. Williams
Developed by C1 PlayLab
Review by Gillian Daniels
(Boston, MA) When a giant dandelion bursts out of the ground in their Philadelphia yard, Kwamaine (the charming Christian Scales) is enchanted while his older brother, Jalil (Kadahj Bennett, who pulls some of the best humorous faces I’ve seen on any given stage), is understandably baffled. Their harassed mother, Raquelle (Lyndsay Allyn Cox), is mostly just annoyed. Writer Josh Wilder and director Summer L. Williams deliver an odd, funny city-based fable that becomes a magic realist quest through systemic poverty, race, The Cosby Show, and the insulating nature of fantasies.
During the first act, I found myself wondering about the separate threads of the story and if they would be tied together by the end. Kwamaine and Jalil have a natural, brotherly chemistry, trading quips and moments of support. The giant dandelion both challenges and deepens their bond. Raquelle, an overworked mother with a passion for playing the lottery, at first seems indifferent to the plant, not to mention flat and largely defined through her sassiness. Chris (Colgan B. Johnson) shows up as the absentee father that draws Raquelle’s ire. On the surface, both fall into tropes we’ve seen before with black characters in popular entertainment, but I should have trusted the unfolding narrative. By the end of the play, we see Raquelle’s frustration is rooted, like the dandelion, in the environment where she’s grown, and that Chris is fighting his own complex demons.
For all its serious themes, the show is largely built with humor. The giant dandelion is recognized for the oddity it is. Despite the child-like image of the enormous, wish-granting weed, though, this is no show for children. There’s cursing, drugs, and discussions of sexual themes. And that just makes it feel that much more organic, flawed, and truly human.
I was pleasantly surprised to see a show that furthers these themes about the imperfect nature of reality with revelations brought into the spotlight with the #MeToo movement. Bill Cosby’s on-screen father-figure Cliff Huxtable (here played by Marc Pierre) is idolized by the rerun-loving Kwamaine. The too-perfect-to-be-true fictional dad stands in direct contrast to the aching, distant Chris who has failed both his sons. The truth behind the lie of the friendly Huxtable image that Bill Cosby used throughout his career, whether to further the persona in fiction or use it to literally lecture marginalized communities in reality, is called out by name for the sexual predator hypocrisy it hides. It’s a harsh truth that emphasizes just why Kwamaine and Jalil can’t isolate themselves with fantasies, even if they’re comforting on the surface.
This is the first show I’ve seen at The Strand Theatre. I was ecstatic to see such a unique, ambitious piece in a venue with such a storied history, but I think it’s a shame I didn’t make it out sooner for other shows. Don’t make my mistake. Get out to “Leftovers” as soon as you can.