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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Sunset Baby
Gate Theatre   Autumn 2012

Dominique Morisseau's new play is made up of a number of familiar elements brought together in a sufficiently original way to hold our interest and involvement. 

An absent father tries to reconnect with the adult daughter he abandoned as a child. An improbably romantic lover tries to convince a damaged woman of his sincerity. A political activist faces the cost of his choices to those nearest to him. A pair of petty criminals try to believe this is only a temporary expedient until they have enough money to start a new clean life. 

A generation that defined itself by the opportunities it was creating for its children must watch them choose not to build on what they were offered. Members of the black American underclass fight against their social and economic limitations in different ways. Sensitive people harden themselves against life in order to survive, and discover that this shell prevents them from being able to give or receive love. 

Each of these could be, and frequently has been, the basis for drama, and Morisseau's accomplishment is to get them all into the same play without overloading it too much. 

A political activist whose social and sometimes criminal activities took him away from his daughter twenty years ago tries to explain himself to her now, but she has little reason or inclination to listen to him. She and her boyfriend are thieves and drug dealers saving up for an escape they may have made themselves too wary and untrusting to be able to make. 

The immediate trigger of the plot is a pack of letters written by the now dead wife and mother to her husband and never sent, of immense emotional value to both father and daughter and potential financial value to the girl, so that the bargaining over them forces each to put a monetary price on their feelings and to face what that action says about themselves. 

It is to the playwright's credit that, if not everything she attempted to squeeze into this play could be fully accommodated, the human story is not sacrificed. Whatever else may also come through, we are made fully aware of three damaged people facing the extent of their responsibility for each other and themselves and reaching for as much of a happy ending as life will allow them. 

Directed with intense energy by Charlotte Westenra, Ben Onwukwe (father), Michelle Asante (daughter) and Chu Omambala (lover) all create believable and sympathetic characters whose personal experience ultimately means more to us than any of the metaphoric weight they bear.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -= Sunset Baby - Gate Theatre 2012  

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