Because the lights go up, we uncover two girls half-buried in sand — which is yet one more lady than stingy Samuel Beckett supplied in “Completely happy Days.” However Beckett’s semi-subterranean Winnie confronted solely the terrors of eternity. For Angela and Odessa, the principle characters in Charly Evon Simpson’s “sandblasted,” which had its world premiere Off Broadway on Sunday, the issue is nearer to residence.
Loads nearer: not even arm’s size, you would possibly say. As a result of lower than a minute into the motion, it’s that appendage that falls off Angela’s physique like an overripe fruit from a tree.
Kudos to the prosthetic designer, Matthew Frew, for the lifelike limb, and to Simpson for the bolt of surreal humor in the beginning of a play that wants to be a Beckettian comedy about Black girls in extremis. If it doesn’t succeed, it’s not for lack of attempting.
For me, it tries too exhausting. The central metaphor — that Black girls are actually falling aside — is assiduously explored, however the points that may give it heft are left, like Angela and Odessa, buried within the sand. Random racist violence and the increased rate of infant mortality are name-checked solely.
Which isn’t to say that each play about Black girls should be a tragic information bulletin. In some methods it’s a reduction that when Angela and Odessa do rise from the sand, there’s some pleasant interaction between them. There’s not a lot growth, although, except you rely the additional shedding of physique elements. Angela (Brittany Bellizeare) loses her nostril and a toe; Odessa (Marinda Anderson) reglues her arm however drops the occasional finger.
The ladies are, at first, strangers, having come to the identical seashore looking for the sand and contemporary air they’ve heard would possibly “sluggish the method” of their apparently epidemic situation. They each match the at-risk demographic: stressed-out Black girls, particularly these dwelling in large cities. Although joined by frequent catastrophe, they’re meet-cute opposites: Odessa blingy, fatalistic and funky; Angela nerdy, anxious and desperate to please. She calls herself a “security cat” versus a “scaredy cat.”
However with the seashore remedy roughly a bust, they however set out collectively on a mad mission to hunt the recommendation and care of an Oprah-like wellness guru named Adah. Adah, who says she is “someplace under 100” in age, has not been bothered by the illness, and has thus turn into a well-liked supply of inspiration about it, writing books, giving lectures (“Woman, Cease Falling Aside!”) and preaching the murky gospel of self-help.
But “sandblasted” just isn’t a satire of Oprah or Oprah-ism; particularly as performed by the previous newscaster and speak present host Rolonda Watts, Adah is not less than as heat as she is sententious. You possibly can’t assist however like her regardless that she’s oblivious to the best way her privilege supplies insulation and her prescriptions change into riddling and fickle. As she joins Angela and Odessa on a journey that appears extra non secular than medical, she suggests they journey east. Oh wait, no, west. Properly, someplace.
The play is equally wayward: its path generally random, its chronology scrambled for no motive. Angela and Odessa appear scrambled, too; they alternate positions of their arguments, maybe to take care of the appearance of battle the place little exists. Energetic disagreement comes into the image solely when Angela’s playboy brother does; Jamal (Andy Lucien) attends an Adah lecture so he’ll “appear extra understanding after I go on dates” and tries to choose up the not-having-it Odessa, whom he meets too coincidentally on the bar the place he works.
The actors, below the path of Summer season L. Williams, are all pleasant, profiting from characterful writing when it’s supplied, and doing what they’ll with the massive gulps of self-conscious poetry Simpson has in any other case requested them to ship.
And “sandblasted” — a coproduction of the Winery and Ladies’s Mission theaters — appears to be like good-looking, too, its surreal panorama represented in Matt Saunders’s set by heaps of sand, a cotton-ball sky and doorways and home windows lower into the cycloramic horizon. The witty costumes (by Montana Levi Blanco) and alfresco lighting (by Stacey Derosier) assist counter the vagueness of time and locale. Regardless of these felicities, the play, with 18 scenes totaling an hour and 40 minutes, is just too lengthy for its personal good, an issue not ameliorated by stodgy pacing and shaggy transitions.
Not everybody will really feel that method. Some individuals within the viewers on the evening I attended have been signifying with murmurs and finger snaps their appreciation for the properly turned phrases and tender encomiums about caring for each other and seizing the day. And although I discovered the pileup of metaphors oppressive, I’ve to confess they have been eye-opening. An particularly elaborate one launched me to the phenomenon of fulgurites: tubes of glass fashioned underground when lightning hits sand.
Within the context of “sandblasted,” they’re clearly meant to represent Black girls themselves, the lightning strike of catastrophe having fused with their very own nature to make one thing lovely and valuable — and, all too typically, buried.
Via March 13 on the Winery Theater, Manhattan; vineyardtheatre.org. Working time: 1 hour 40 minutes.