The title of “When Day Comes,” which is currently being presented by Crossroads Theatre Company at the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center, represents the first three words of “The Hill We Climb,” the poem read by National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman at President Biden’s inauguration. The full sentence goes: “When day comes we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?”
“When Day Comes” seeks to answer that question. Conceived and directed by Crossroads co-founder Ricardo Khan and written by him in collaboration with the long-running socially conscious vocal group Sweet Honey in the Rock, it is performed by Sweet Honey in the Rock and two actors, and is very much of the moment.
The actors, Ashley Nicole Baptiste and Ernest Bentley, perform together, and sometimes with Sweet Honey in the Rock members, in vignettes that would have been inconceivable a few years ago.
An exhausted doctor worries about his inability to protect people from the rapidly spreading COVID-19 virus.
A nursing home resident hangs out with her friends and is visited by her daughter, who wears a mask, doesn’t get too close, and tries to make her understand about the threat posed by this “really bad flu” that is going around.
Another mother deals with a hyperactive child, cooped up at home because of the pandemic.
George Floyd and other victims of police brutality are honored, and last year’s protests are evoked.
These sometimes poignant, sometimes humorous segments are complemented by the dazzling virtuosity and raw emotion of Sweet Honey in the Rock’s rooted-in-gospel vocal performances. Joined by bassist Romeir Mendez and sometimes accompanying themselves on percussion instruments, the four Sweet Honey members (Aisha Kahlil, Nitanju Bolade Casel, Carol Maillard and Louise Robinson) provide the same kind of spiritual uplift and sense of purpose that made Gorman’s poem resonate, nationally, and add to the show’s theatricality with their formidable stage presence.
Musical highlights included Kahlil’s meditative reinterpretation of Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” and all three numbers of the encore, a mini-concert consisting of Nina Simone’s “Come Ye” and then “Chinese Proverb” and “Let There Be Peace,” the last of which ended with audience members singing along to the line, “Let it begin with me.”
“When Day Comes” is part of the Crossroads Theatre Company’s Fall Festival, which also features the play “Emergency!,” readings of new plays, and family events. Crossroads and the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center will continue with this model twice a year; the next festival will be a Spring Festival from June 7 to June 26, featuring the plays “Freedom Rider” and “Text Me When You Arrive.”
Remaining performances of “When Day Comes” are scheduled for Oct. 1-2 and 6-9 at 7 p.m.; Oct. 2-3 and 9-10 at 3 p.m.; and Oct. 6 at 11 a.m. at the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center. Visit crossroadstheatrecompany.org for information and tickets for this show, and for more on other Fall Festival events.
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