How do you get inside the head of a New York City adolescent? In Bronx Gothic, a new solo performance created and performed by Okwui Okpokwasili, you go through the body and its repository of personal histories. Summoning memories for storytelling — inflected with West African griot traditions — Okpokwasili’s tall, slender frame shakes and twitches as she gives herself over to them.
In spoken sections, Okpokwasili reads from notes passed back and forth between two 11-year-old girls living in the Bronx. Their conversations chart awakening sexualities and blooming emotions of fear, rage, and wonder. One girl observes that you “can’t trust anyone, even in your own house”; elsewhere, she confesses to her friend, “Do you know how hard it is for me to love anybody?” These troubled epistles, which Okpokwasili reads gently into a microphone, form the core of Bronx Gothic, but the performance also transports us into the girls’ corresponding dream life of bleeding buildings and cumulus clouds.
Okpokwasili, who regularly appears as an actor in the city’s most experimental productions, has always been a commanding force. Bronx Gothic sometimes overstretches or repeats, but it is thoroughly a breakout success — evocative and fresh, revealing a voice as compelling as her stage presence has always been.