‘Conversation: How to Make It in Black America’ Is Rough, Raw, and Vital


Conversation: How to Make It in Black America Pt. 1, a compelling new performance piece by Modesto “Flako” Jimenez, Saroya Marsh, and Bonafide Rojas — now playing at JACK — is a rough draft. It meanders and falters. But it has an early draft’s virtues, too: ambition, vitality, and impassioned urgency.

What theatrical form could possibly encapsulate America’s conflicted thinking about race in the era of Ferguson, Baltimore, and Charleston? For Jimenez, Marsh, and Rojas, the tentative answer is a porous, deliberately unfinished one — a performance conversation that models a more introspective national debate. Blending autobiography and analysis, they recite charged slam poems and enact short dialogues scrutinizing racial politics in America and, especially, New York City. The three performers take suggestions for discussion topics from the audience, riffing candidly and thoughtfully.

Periodically, they pause to converse with forebears: A video of James Baldwin eloquently addressing a 1960s meeting about black power appears onscreen upstage. Poignantly, Jimenez remonstrates with Baldwin’s image, lamenting the persistence of demeaning language in everyday speech.

Writing is the governing image here: Between — and sometimes during — segments, Jimenez and Marsh sit at a shared desk, furiously scribbling new text. And in the end, that’s the real answer to the piece’s impossible artistic question: We’ve got to keep talking, keep writing, keep revising. Otherwise, we give in.

Conversation: How to Make It in Black America Pt. 1
By Modesto ‘Flako’ Jimenez, Saroya Marsh, and Bonafide Rojas
505 1/2 Waverly Avenue, Brooklyn

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