Bridgit Antoinette Evans and Khadim Diop in Seed
(© Ruth Sovronsky)
Bridgit Antoinette Evans and Khadim Diop in Seed
(© Ruth Sovronsky)
After nearly 20 years on the job, Harlem-based social worker Anne Colleen Simpson (Bridgit Antoinette Evans) is feeling burnt out, and ready to leave the field. However, she can't help but get drawn into the lives of an exceptional 12-year-old boy and his mother in Radha Blank's provocative new play, Seed, being co-presented by The Classical Theatre of Harlem and the Hip-Hop Theater Festival at the National Black Theatre, under Niegel Smith's smart direction.

Anne has had some high-profile successes in her career, most notably saving six children from being shot to death by their mentally unstable mother. However, she has also had cases that continue to haunt her -- including that of Rashawn (Pernell Walker), whom she rescued from a crack-addicted mother, only to have the girl get lost and abused in the foster care system, and eventually wind up in prison, where Anne visits her.

These visits -- which continue even after Anne has supposedly given up her caseloads -- signal the difficulty Anne has in letting go, and a tendency to get emotionally attached to her clients. So, it's not too surprising that when she meets the bright, but underprivileged youth Chee-Chee (Khadim Diop), she becomes overly involved in the boy's welfare despite the resistance of Chee-Chee's mother, Latonya (Jocelyn Bioh).

Blank's script combines naturalistic dialogue with more stylized passages full of rhythm and rhyme that wouldn't be out of place at a slam poetry competition. This technique is epitomized by a hysterically funny speech from Latonya about working at a Duane Reade, which Bioh delivers with just the right touch of sass.

Evans presents a layered approach to her character, conveying a reserved professionalism mixed in with a childlike eagerness and an emotional fragility that causes Anne to make a fateful decision towards the end of the play that has severe consequences.

The 14-year-old Diop makes a fantastic Off-Broadway debut, perfectly capturing his character's keen intelligence and intense longing to feel comfortable in his own skin. He's also very funny.

Walker has a powerful presence that can make Rashawn seem quite intimidating, but the actress also brings a warmth to the role, particularly when the inmate talks about her pottery talents. Rounding out the cast is Jaime Lincoln Smith as Twan, who is Chee-Chee's father. Although his stage time is limited, the actor brings depth to his performance and easily conveys Twan's convictions and love for his son.

All of the characters must make some tough decisions over the course of the play, even as they have rather limited options. Blank provides a welcome complexity to their motivations and behavior, providing glimmers of hope, even when they make the wrong choices.