Do I find it so hard
When I know in my heart
I’m letting you down every day
Letting you down every day
Why do I keep on running away? – Jay-Z
“Still… The Play Inspired By 4:44” at the Complex Dorie focuses on an evening with four brothers who have come home to Detroit after the recent death of their mother. While coming to terms with their loss, they confront their collective and individual demons as a family.
Laser-sharp, and cleanly written and directed by Lucky Mor, “Still… The Play Inspired By 4:44” interweaves lighthearted moments with some very serious themes. As funny as it is intense and emotional, four actors deliver a very tight one-hour emotional roller coaster ride. A good one.
Mor plays one of the brothers, Christopher “Top” Steves, who has come to discuss the family estate with his three brothers, Lavon “Von” Steves (Thai Edwards), Manchester “Chess” Steves (Maceo “Suede” Fisher), and Nolan “Scoop” Steves (Kevyn Richmond.)
Top, a celebrity news host, though his success and fame has supported and/or interfered in the other brothers’ lives, has himself has made questionable life choices.
Von, who struggles to make ends meet while raising a family, judges and criticizes his siblings’ choices.
Scoop, while pursuing strength in his activism in support of Black Lives Matter against the pain, fear, and anger he feels, makes choices that affect others.
Chess seeks to come to terms with his own identity as his mother’s caregiver (in her last months,) as the family peacekeeper, and as a gay man whose promising pro ball career ended upon coming out.
“Still… The Play Inspired By 4:44,” named so after artist Jay-Z’s 4:44 album, dares to tackle mixed ideals and politics within a black family, a powder keg issue unique in the atmosphere that is 2018, where love is the only glue keeping tolerance and understanding within.
While laying out each individual’s ideas and future plans for their parents’ home, the brothers’ long-held resentments, miscommunications, and the secrets they have kept long-hidden, ferment and bubble until truth and catharsis surface.
In a dogmatic moment, Von fights to keep the house while defending his ideals with, “Money doesn’t buy you happiness, but it pays for the search.”
While the brothers reminisce over growing up, their parents, the home they made together, and their mother’s divine cookies, they also wag fingers over life choices, failed careers, social standing, and wade through jealousies, a lifetime of misunderstandings, and an ocean of undisclosed pain.
On coming out, Chess notes that the difficulty was ironically not with his parents, including his father, but in society at large, where in a light moment he quotes his father as saying, “Just don’t come home pregnant.”
The strong father figure is further supported, as Top, pained that his brother Scoop may lose himself in his activism, quotes his father to Scoop, should he ever find himself in trouble, as saying “Just come home to me. I’ll handle it … You can fight, you can protest, you can do whatever … but you do what mamma and daddy said, you come home.”
Chess, on the close bond he once had with his brother, Von, growing up, reminisces in a telling moment with, “You were my first partner, but you were my first bully too.”
Bad life decisions, enlightening secrets, tough love, hidden addictions, and the smell of fresh baked cookies ultimately brings “Still… The Play Inspired By 4:44” to the only place it can go, forgiveness.
A very snug one-hour, the play could only benefit from an extra 15 to 30 minutes just to have breathing room for the actors and written text. But here, you just have to remember to breathe. And don’t forget to tell your mamma that you love her.
“Still… The Play Inspired By 4:44” won the Hollywood Fringe Encore Hollywood Producers Award at the Ricardo Montalban Theatre on Sunday, June 24, 2018, and the show has been extended to two additional performances–Friday, July 13, and Saturday, July 14, 2018, each night showing at 8 p.m., at the Complex Hollywood (The Dorie Theatre) 6476 Santa Monica Blvd.