Theater review: ‘Black Boy Fly’ at Jubilee Theatre

Posted 8:16am on Tuesday, Jun. 17, 2014

FORT WORTH — Jubilee Theatre, which typically presents known works, did something a bit different last weekend by showcasing Black Boy Fly¸ a new work by 19-year-old Jordan Cooper, who recently graduated from L.D. Bell High School. The production, showing off a writer with talent but too much of a tendency to preach, ended a five-performance run on Sunday.

The one-act play deals with three young lawyers: Clyde (Christopher Piper), an up-and-comer still attending Harvard Law School, his girlfriend, Heather (Alden Price) and Clyde’s old flame, Vanessa (Whitney Coulter), who uses her legal training to help the disadvantaged. Clyde and Vanessa are black, and Heather is white.

We first meet the couple as they are moving into a new apartment and are awaiting the arrival of Clyde’s brother Vaughn, who is coming straight from jail (the warped cliché of the Harvard law student having a felonious brother is the script’s first stumble). Instead, Vanessa is at the door because, since there are only a few million lawyers in the country, she is naturally the one who would be working Vaughn’s case.

This trio then engages in a series of debates about racial issues because Clyde has accepted an internship with the defense team in the Trayvon Martin case, a betrayal of race that rankles Vanessa. The facts of that famous trial are examined, as is who can and cannot use the n-word, among other racial issues. If this show had a more honest title it would be Young Lawyers on Soap Boxes. Then, after having exhausted all these social issues , a soap opera plot about an abortion is dropped into the mix. And at that point, this 50-minute play, directed by Jubilee artistic director Tre Garrett, drives straight off a cliff.

So there are huge problems with this show, as would be expected with such a young playwright. Cooper, who has been an artist-in-residence at Jubilee this past season, makes his points by bludgeoning his audience with preaching. He may be too young to realize how tired these debates are, or how lacking in subtlety his approach is, when presented in this matter and in this quantity.

On the positive side, though, Cooper does display a superior understanding of language. He is judicious about when and where he employs obscenities in his script, for example. He also, by instinct or design, shows a feel for structure. Surprisingly, this very traditional show owes a lot to the absurdist masterpiece Waiting for Godot. Cooper seems to understand that it is Vaughn’s absence (just like Godot’s no-show) that drives the characters to do what they do. But, his youth shows itself again when he brings the unseen Vaughn back into the show’s finale in a ridiculous fashion.

Also in the plus column, Cooper can write funny. And that is the hardest thing for any writer in any medium to do. When his characters are not pounding on the pulpit of social righteousness, some of the exchanges of dialogue show talent . So this play does suggest Cooper has some potential.

But, on the whole, this script does not work because Cooper -- who will be attending the New School in New York in the fall and part of this show’s proceeds went to his scholarship -- needs to learn to make his points with art, not oratory, and because it is too overloaded with hot-button issues. If this show had been 10 minutes longer, it would probably would have taken up the crisis in Ukraine.

But these are expected and forgivable shortcomings in someone so young.

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