Retrograde is a new play written by Ryan Calais Cameron (For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy) and directed by Amit Sharma (The Boy With Two Hearts) currently playing at the Kiln Theatre.
The story deals with a pivotal moment in the life and career of Sidney Poitier, the first Black actor from the Bahamas to win an Academy Award for Best Actor and ascend to stardom. The action takes place within the four walls of the office of Mr. Parks, an NBC lawyer energetically played by Daniel Lapaine, who is negotiating a very lucrative contract together with Hollywood writer Bobby, played by a convincing Ian Bonar, to be signed by break out star Bahamian actor, Sidney Poitier. The main problem seems to be that Sidney is not “Belafonte Black”, he is “Black-Black” and, according to Mr Park’s sources, a supporter of Communism and a threat to American values.
When Mr. Parks condescendingly starts to push his own terms of the contract onto Sidney and suddenly pulls out a Loyalty Oath which he basically threatens him to sign in order to have a career in the arts and to stay safe as an American citizen, the fight is on, and so is our investment as the audience. It is hard to sit still on our seats while we watch Sidney fight with all his might against all the power imbalances of the times he lives in. From racism and prejudice to politics and the money-driven interests of Hollywood producers, we follow a smart, wise, but mostly extremely courageous Sidney Poitier work as hard as he can to make the right decision, having to negotiate his desire to live and succeed as an actor with his profound need to stay true to his values of justice, equity, loyalty. Ivanno Jeremiah delivers a masterful performance as Sidney, he is constantly in the moment, attacking and retracting tactfully and sometimes impulsively as he fights the overwhelming amount of obstacles thrown his way, and when the time comes he is able to speak with moving power and truth through his character. This is possible also thanks to the outstanding, unapologetic performance of Daniel Lapaine, playing the “bad guy” in such a flawless way as to bring out all of the best arguments and colours from the other characters.
Beth Duke’s sound design successfully transports us to the Golden Age of Hollywood, and together with the warm and suffused lighting of Amy Mae, we really feel like a fly on the wall witnessing a small moment in a man’s history with potential great consequences for History as a whole.
The play asks important and relevant questions: how far have we really come when it comes to racism? As a society, are we really changing towards inclusion, equality and equity, or are we actually using these agendas to still manipulate human beings for our own gains and interests?
Retrograde runs at the Kiln Theatre until May 27th.
Review: Andrea Golinucci Photos: Marc Brenner