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Geraldine Inoa explores the traumatic aftermath of a police killing in Scraps
Ever since the Black Lives Matter movement came to prominence after a white police officer fatally shot Michael Brown, there has been a rash of searing plays about how law enforcement victimizes African American men (Pass Over at Lincoln Center Theater, Kill Move Paradise at the National Black Theatre, Harlem Stage's upcoming Antigone in Ferguson). But Geraldine Inoa's world-premiere drama Scraps, at the Flea Theater, examines this scourge from another angle: the impact on those who are left behind. Helmed by the Flea's artistic director Niegel Smith, Scraps kicks off the company's "Color Brave" season showcasing no-holds-barred plays about race.
Composed in two distinct parts, Scraps parses the aftermath of the death of Forest, an unarmed black man who was killed by a white cop. Initially, the play chronicles the reactions of his best friends, but then it takes a deep dive into the troubled mind of his eight-year-old son, Sebastian (played by Bryn Carter). In this section, Scraps veers into surreal territory as Sebastian wrestles with his guilt, helplessness, growing pains and burgeoning queerness.
Although Scraps is set in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, Inoa says the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri is what inspired her to write the play. "I always wondered what happened to his loved ones after the cameras went away, after the press ended," says Inoa, whose day job is writing for AMC's The Walking Dead. "This play stems from the frustration of what was happening and the fact that theatre had not yet articulated an intelligent and cathartic response, so I said, 'Fine -- I'll do it.'"
Scalding speeches punctuate the first half of Scraps, notably an operatic takedown of America's white supremacy problem. But there are moments of camaraderie among the survivors, too. At one point they launch into a joyful rendition of Biggie Smalls' "Notorious Thugs" that sets the audience rapping and grooving.
But it's during the tour of Sebastian's frightening psyche that Inoa breaks new ground. "Being in Sebastian's mind is one of the most challenging, empathetic things I've ever had to write," Inoa says. "I'm proud of it because I'm also queer and I don't think I've seen black queer childhood presented on stage. My own years of psychoanalysis are what allowed me to gain empathy for the experiences that I lived through. My challenge was: How are we going to make people understand the inherited trauma of a queer child? And are they going to be angry when we depart from a narrative structure that is familiar to them?"
Inoa credits the cast, all members of the Flea's resident acting company The Bats, and the director for making the transition from naturalism to visceral nightmare seamless. "My actors are so incredible and just completely lose themselves in the work," she says. "And Niegel was able to replicate images that you've seen in media of people being dehumanized, and -- through the lens of this play -- made their situation even more heartbreaking because we've just spent an hour getting to know them and their circumstances."
Of course those circumstances weren't created by just one trigger-happy cop. In Inoa's eyes, we are all culpable for what happens in Scraps, which is a reflection of our brutal society. "It's not just the white police officer -- we're all complicit," she says. "Not only in Forest's death but in Sebastian's continued suffering."
To read about a student's experience at Scraps, check out this post on TDF's sister site SEEN.
A dancer and playwright, Juan Michael Porter II has contributed articles to Ballet Review, The Dance Enthusiast, Time Out New York, Broadway World and HuffPost. Follow him at @juanmichaelii. Follow TDF at @ TDFNYC.
Top image: Roland Lane, Tanyamaria, Bryn Carter, Michael Oloyede and Alana Raquel Bowers in Scraps. Photos by Hunter Canning.
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