Have you ever had a dream so incredibly vivid, that you could’ve sworn it was real, or that it was a sign? Cleveland Public Theatre delves into the meaning of one’s past and the search for oneself in the twisty, thoughtful “Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea.” Playing now through June 6, 2015 in the James Levin Theatre, this Nathan Alan Davis piece is a moving journey about embracing one’s true destiny. The story is about what we hold on to, and what we give away.
Directed by Megan Sandberg-Zakian, the 95-minute show (no intermission) draws the audience into the world of Dontrell Jones III (Kalim Hill), a world where the hopes of others ride on his future. Dontrell is a month away from starting college on a full scholarship, but he is haunted by dreams of his ancestor, the original Dontrell Jones. He feels deeply connected to this relative, and has a hunger to know about his true past.
Amusingly poignant, Dontrell is keeping a verbal record of his journey on a mini-cassette player. Throughout the tale, he pulls out the gadget, pushes record and addresses his “Captain’s Log” with “Attention, future generations!” He is searching, he is unsettled. As examples of some of the material that finds its way into the recording device, he ponderingly wonders, “am I supposed to be the same person my whole life?” and randomly notes for future listeners, “I do not like eggs.”
With the dream-spirit of his past beckoning him into the sea, Dontrell hops a ride with his friend Robby (Johnathon L. Jackson) and goes to seek answers from his cousin Shea (LaPrise Johnson) at the Aquarium. She challenges him to “be amazed by what’s already around you – love what’s around you.” It’s there that he ends up making plans for some scuba gear.
Before he can use the gear, though, he needs to learn to swim! Emboldened by his visions, he goes to the beach and leaps in to the water, nearly drowning. Luckily, lifeguard Erika (Rachel Lee Kolis) is there to save his body, and his spirit. They connect with each other immediately, sensing a familiarity in each other’s restlessness. She agrees to teach him to swim, and things get sexy on the beach. “You look like the entire Universe looking back at me.”
The feeling in the air gets tense when Dontrell brings Erika home to his “exceptionally functional and uniquely damaged” family. His mother Sophia (Sheffia Randall Dooley) and his sister Danielle (Shayla Gordon) are giving him a second graduation party, and Sophia has gotten wind of Dontrell’s scuba plans. Sophia does not want him to venture into the sea – she just desperately wants Dontrell to go to college and begin his adult life. Culminating into a heated, awkward blowup of emotions, the family intervention concludes in a heart-to-heart between Dontrell and his father Dontrell Jones, Jr. (Joseph Primes), and a prayer bonding between his mother and Erika. “We are not Destiny’s authors, we take notes,” says Dontrell Jr.
With the party behind them, Dontrell and Erika realize that they’ve created some magic of their own, but they argue. Eventually, they end up together on a boat that will take them to their destinies – to what life and the Universe have been calling them to do.
The cohesive group works in tandem with each other throughout the piece, providing vocal backdrop and rhythmic underscoring to the piece as it rolls through the story. Even on preview night, this company shows a seasoned quality that some casts don’t attain during many runs together. The individual performances are honest and naturalistic.
The movement and music (Talise Campbell and Baba David Coleman) are everything from rhythmic and energetic to entrancing and haunting.
With the action playing out on a set made of three wooden levels, backed by curved wooden planks, Set Designer Todd Krispinksy pulls the audience onto a boat-like atmosphere. The surprise in the design comes later in the show, when Dontrell and Erika turn the maritime-inspired floor into a pop-up boat with masts and the sense of sails.
Lighting Designer Ben Gantose illuminates the show with the dark warmth of colors that complement the mood of the piece. Tesia Dugan Benson’s costumes are realistic and appropriate, moving into white basics for more ethereal sections for those in the background. Props of note (Christina Dennis) include cute and colorful lit lanterns making an appearance as “fish.”
Overall the piece highlights the search that many people have – a search for one’s roots, for one’s legacy, for one’s own truth. It shows the bonds of family, and the bonds of expectation that pull a person away from their own inner truths. It has moments of funny joy and of deep emotion.
“Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea” runs now through June 6, 2015 in the James Levin Theatre. Tickets are $12-$28 and can be purchased by visiting www.cptonline.org, or by calling 216-631-2727. Cleveland Public Theatre is located at 6415 Detroit Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44102.