fb-pixel Skip to main content

In ‘BLKS,’ three women navigate love, friendship, and a night on the town

From left: Kelsey Fonise, Shanelle Chloe Villegas, and Thomika Marie Bridwell in "BLKS."Nile Scott Studios

At one point in Aziza Barnes’s “BLKS,” a young woman named June (Thomika Marie Bridwell), speaking to a guy she’s not known for long, says matter-of-factly: “People are hard. Love is, well, it’s pretty easy.”

The first part of that statement is incontestably true, and will be proven anew by the experiences June and her best friends Octavia (Shanelle Chloe Villegas) and Imani (Kelsey Fonise) have during the course of a long and tumultuous night on the town.

And the second part? Well, that particular proposition is sorely tested in the lives of these three Black women in their early 20s, living in Brooklyn (”where Bed-Stuy meets Bushwick”) and trying to navigate the hairpin turns of romance as well as careers, friendship, connection, and intimacy — all of which isn’t easy when the wheels are coming off, as they often are in “BLKS.”


Directed at a suitably racing pace by Tonasia Jones at SpeakEasy Stage Company, “BLKS” is a comedy, and a frequently entertaining one, but it’s also more than that. The play’s exuberance is leavened with relentless honesty about the need to find a sense of belonging amid the chaos and confusion of early adulthood. “We don’t belong out here,” Imani says when the three friends are on a street corner in Manhattan. Replies Octavia: “I guess we don’t. But then we don’t really belong anywhere.” Imani: “OK, but we gotta live somewhere.” Octavia: “Live and belong are two different things.”

While driven by an insistence on joy, “BLKS” also evinces the playwright’s awareness that sadness is never more than an inch away, and the two emotions can trade places in a heartbeat. Also never far away is the reality of an enduring racism that can rear its head without warning; late in the play, the women learn of yet another killing of an unarmed Black person.


Barnes has populated “BLKS” — which can be partly seen as a response to the all-white quartets in “Girls” and “Sex and the City” — with vividly individuated lead characters, along with supporting characters who are sketched in deliberately broad strokes. Their dialogue blazes, laced with throwaway pop culture references (Inigo Montoya in “The Princess Bride,” Angela Bassett in “How Stella Got Her Groove Back,” dramas on the UPN network).

Octavia has just quit her job to focus on writing the screenplay for “a magical surreal all-Black indie film,” to be directed by her partner Ry (Sandra Seoane-Serí). But when Octavia undergoes a health scare, she finds Ry’s reaction to be insufficiently solicitous, and angrily kicks her out of the apartment.

Imani, meanwhile, is struggling to launch a stand-up career by memorizing and performing segments of Eddie Murphy’s “Raw,” which seems to help her process her grief over losing her father. As for June, she has just landed a high-paying job as an accountant, but that achievement gets overlooked in the general hubbub, and in any case is marred by June’s discovery that her chronically unfaithful boyfriend has cheated on her again.

With all that pent-up pressure to release, the women decide to, in Imani’s words, “get extremely day drunk [and] extremely night fly.” Their openness to adventure results in an odyssey through the streets of SoHo and into a club (both evoked by Jenna McFarland Lord’s graffiti-laden set) that leads to encounters that range from uproarious to unnerving. (In light of the frankness with which “BLKS” discusses and depicts events, SpeakEasy is recommending “BLKS” for age 17 and up.)


A hookup at the club turns bizarre for Octavia when the guy’s interests turn out to be very … specific. Imani meets a white woman (Meghan Hornblower) who insists on touching Imani’s hair while they are making out, then pushes her sense of her own entitlement even further. June dances with the nerdy Justin (Sharmarke Yusuf, who adeptly shuttles among multiple characters). Justin turns out to be needy in the extreme. (In what may be a glimpse at June’s own yearning, Justin later tells her that she whispered “I love you” to him on the dance floor.)

While not a perfect play, “BLKS” seldom drags, even though the SpeakEasy production runs an hour and 45 minutes with no intermission. The SpeakEasy cast gives animated life to Barnes’s complicated characters, making their friendships and their conflicts alike seem credible. When the final words we hear in “BLKS” are “I feel it all,” it seems entirely fitting.


Play by Aziza Barnes. Directed by Tonasia Jones. Presented by SpeakEasy Stage Company. At Roberts Studio Theatre, Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts. Through Nov. 20. Tickets start at $25. 617-933-8600, www.speakeasystage.com

Don Aucoin can be reached at donald.aucoin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeAucoin.