Steppenwolf Theater Presents BLKS Review — Touching and funny!

Steppenwolf Theater BLKS
(L to R) ensemble member Namir Smallwood (Justin), Leea Ayers (June) and Danielle Davis (Ry) Photo: Michael Brosilow
Steppenwolf Theater BLKS
(L to R) Danielle Davis (Ry) and Nora Carroll (Octavia) Photo: Michael Brosilow
Steppenwolf Theater BLKS
(L to R) Nora Carroll (Octavia) and ensemble member Namir Smallwood (Justin) Photo: Michael Brosilow
Steppenwolf Theater BLKS
L to R) Kelly O’Sullivan (That Bitch On The Couch) and Celeste M. Cooper (Imani) Photo: Michael Brosilow

In the program for this presentation of BLKS, poet and Playwright Aziza Barns explains that she was not interested in writing a play about “people who are miserable and sad.” She created BLKS to be a comedy, or as she says “please let it be a comedy.” And it IS great comedy—funny as hell!

 From the very first scene, when the performers burst onto the stage, it’s clear that this is going to be an evening of raucous fun. A day in the lives of three friends unfolds, as they experience the good, the bad and the hilarious. From the irreverent and decidedly undecided Octavia (played by Nora Carroll), the often brooding, always opinionated, Imani (Celeste M. Cooper), to the worldly, success-driven June (Lean Ayes).

Sibyl Wickersheimer’s stage design provides a colorful and realistic backdrop, with the look of a much lived in apartment. There’s furniture that doesn’t match that was probably bought used. Stuff is strewn everywhere, all mixed up and confused, just like June, Imani and Octavia. It’s like peeking through a window, where you can see everything, the bedrooms, the bathroom and the very lives of these three women.

Image projections (designed by Rosean Davonte Johnson) wash over parts of the set. Some of the pictures simply give a feel for the time of day, while in one moving scene, actual news footage is used to underscore a situation dealing with police brutality.

Aziza Barnes wanted to create a comedy and she has succeeded. The quips and barbs are constant, keeping the audience in stitches. Octavia (Nora Carroll) steals the show in the very beginning with a troubling discovery on a very intimate part of her body that she proceeds to show to everyone, including her suddenly uninterested lover, Ry (Danielle Davis). The sophisticated businesswoman June proves she is still a “sister girl” when, using very colorful language, she complains about her cheating boyfriend “who drinks red wine with Popeye’s Chicken.” Meanwhile Imani is a frustrated, unsuccessful standup comic whose only specialty is parroting the works of Eddie Murphy. There’s even some physical comedy in the form of a few pratfalls and a hysterical fist fight in slow motion.

While the three are at a club that night, Imani meets a white woman who is identified in the cast as “That Bitch On The Couch” (Kelly O’Sullivan) and a rather awkward encounter ensues that fluctuates between attraction and hate as they try to size each other up. June meets Justin (Namir Smallwood), a streetwise and likeable geek who comes to her rescue by fixing the heel on her shoe using the tube of Crazy Glue and the penlight he always carry in his pockets. His further attempts to be helpful later results in one of the funniest scenes in the play.

Steppenwolf Theater Stages Another Real World Comedy

BLKS examines real issues facing women, blacks and black women, through the experiences and encounters of three smart, sassy, and often bewildered young ladies trying to find their way through life. Proving that the world has not changed, it’s just as indifferent, cruel and rewarding as ever.

Be aware that BLKS contains adult language and situations. There is also some nudity and sex. However, it all adds to the story and even helps define the characters. You will be surprised, maybe even a little shocked. But you’ll also laugh your ass off.


Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.

Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.


Through January 28, 2018

Saturdays and Sunday 3:00 PM and 7:00PM
Tuesdays through Fridays 7:30 PM
(No performance on December 24th)


Steppenwolf Theater
1650 N. Halsted
Chicago, IL



For tickets visit the Steppenwolf Theater website or call (312) 335-1650


Photos:  Michael Brosilow

Steve Bellinger
Steve Bellinger

Steve Bellinger was born and raised on the West Side of Chicago by a single mom who worked nights for a printing company. She would bring home books and magazines to encourage her kids to read. This is how he discovered Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke and the other masters of classic science fiction. It didn’t take long for him to get the itch to write. Over the years he’s written everything from newspaper articles, comic strips and radio drama to short stories and fan fiction. He is the author of the science fiction time travel novel The Chronocar. His second novel, Edge of Perception is due to be released in 2018.

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