I almost didn’t request a ticket to review this show when I saw that it is a play about depression and suicide. I didn’t know if it was going to be a Tosca moment when the Diva threw herself off a cliff because of love, or an endless dirge of counterpoint duets. What intrigued me about Get Out Alive, now being staged by Haven Chicago, was the “Afro-Goth” description by the playwright and star Nikki Lynette. My mind went to Southern Gothic and wives sealed in the attic, and dark mansions with obsessive housekeepers named Mrs. Danvers. In fact, DJ Jason P1 Lloyd did play the theme from The Alfred Hitchcock Hour as a prelude to the show. What burst through the graffiti curtain was anything but a sardonic treatise on death. Nikki Lynette is an artistic force of nature in Get Out Alive. This is her story of going over the brink and clawing her way back with music, art, dance, and wading through the muck of darkness that is depression. The show is expertly co-directed by Lucky Stiff and Roger Ellis.
Get Out Alive is an interdisciplinary blend of music, dance, video, photography and interviews with real people who are dealing with crippling depression. Lynette’s story is very much like that of many Black women but I have never seen it told like this. Historically, Black people are not known for seeking mental health care. Depression and suicide are the hidden epidemic among people of color. Historically, Black women have been expected to bear the weight of all family problems on their shoulders and wait for a reward from Jesus when they get to heaven. Lynette gives a full spectrum performance where a Black woman is allowed to express fear, grief, anger, and instability.
Lynette and co-choreographers Keeley Morris and Jacinda Ratcliffe storm the catwalk stage as the facets of a woman experiencing depression and suicidal intent. All of the music is written by Nikki Lynette and it is dope mix of soul, gospel, and hip-hop. Lynette’s voice soars with a lush orchestration of beats and beautiful melodies. The show is set up as obsequies for the death of the playwright’s depression. If you have ever been to a Black funeral, you know that it is a presentation and the chance to openly express grief. My family would always comment about how someone was “put away.” Lynette puts her depression and suicide attempts away gloriously. Instead of enduring an ex’s abuse and dalliances after she has lost their child, she tears into a song called “Hoe”—as in what about your hoe/side piece.
The humor is dark and yet hilarious because it is dripping in truth. Lynette calls her ex ‘Lucifer—lord of f*ck boys and sorrow or just ‘Lucy.’ The mother/daughter relationship is dissected with all of the psychodrama that plays out between women. Those who have been abused will either turn perhaps a blind eye or beat any sexual curiosity out of their children. Lynette addresses triggers that exacerbate depression and can sharpen the resolve to die to be free of the pain.
This show had me reeling with grief from the segment about caring for her dying mother. I was also laughing from wishing I had used some of Lynette’s pithy comebacks in songs such as “I’ll Kill You and Cry on Your Grave.” The pace was nonstop and there was not one missed beat or lapse in action. The scenic design by Eleanor Kahn with props by Caitlyn McLeod is beautifully balanced. There is the sidewalk memorial, which has become omnipresent in our world, especially with the pandemic and gun violence. The urns of flowers gave off a funereal vibe even festooned with comedy/tragedy emoticon masks. The stage curtains are covered with graffiti art and the walls are lined with parchment-like paper to project images. DJ Jason P1 Lloyd plays some fire beats for the “visitation” part of the program as a projection of a Nikki Lynette painting is projected on a continuous loop.
Lynette is telling her story and her truth about mental illness. She spent time in a psych ward after a suicide attempt and discovered others who felt as alone as she felt. Lynette made a promise to use her art to tell their stories. Get Out Alive is a culmination of stories of mental illness that disproportionately affects Black and LGBTQIA+ communities. I spoke with Lynette after the show and she had some words for those who claim her show is ‘dark and twisted.’ “The minute that a Black woman tells her truth, people are all up in arms.” The humorist in her emerged, “Damn, I twerked in a tutu! What more do you want from me?” Lynette writes and speaks truth from her heart and her gut. She has given a TEDx Talk hosted by Princeton University. She is the first Black female playwright to be produced by the American Music Theatre Project (AMTP) and her show debuted at Steppenwolf Theatre in 2020. Oh, and one more little item. Spike Lee is using her music in a coming Netflix series! Lynette has thrown a fireball of light into the dark world that she survived. Now, run tell that.
I highly recommend this show. Some amazing work has been incubated during this endless pandemic. The arts flourish during times of hardship. Get Out Alive should be seen by everyone to get a dose of reality and a balm to soothe despair. This should be required viewing for every person who asks why Black women are so angry/so hard/so recalcitrant. These questions have been asked of me and while I have never been at a loss for words, I would love to have them experience Get Out Alive. They need to see the human experience of depression and suicide that sees no race or ethnicity. This is a show that is in your face, eloquent, visceral, and beautifully alive.
Get Out Alive runs through August 6. The show plays at the Den Theatre’s Janet Bookspan Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave. Running time is 100 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are $21-$46 with special rates for students or industry people. Haven is spotlighting mental health and radical self-care with Get Out Alive. Please visit www.havenchi.org for tickets and more information about the show. Covid precautions are observed; masks are encouraged and proof of vaccine must be shown. Do your part so that we can continue to see more of the beauty that has come from a trying time. Mask up and take care of yourself.
For more information on this and other productions, see www.theatreinchicago.com.
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