brownsville song (b-side for tray) OFF-BROADWAY REVIEWS

Photo: Ruby Washington



  • EW

  • TM

Opening Night:
October 20, 2014
November 16, 2014

Theater: Claire Tow Theater / 150 West 65th Street, New York, NY, 10023


LCT3 presents the New York premiere of brownsville song (b-side for tray) written by Kimber Lee (fight, tokyo fish) and directed by Patricia McGregor.

Set in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, brownsville song (b-side for tray) is a powerful tale of resilience in the face of tragedy. Moving fluidly between past and present, this bold new play tells the story of Tray, a spirited African-American 18-year-old and his family, who must hold on to hope when Tray's life is cut short.

  • NEW YORK TIMES REVIEW OF brownsville song (b-side for tray)

    Determined Not to Live the Same Old Story

    Alexis Soloski

    October 21, 2014: Tray, a high school senior in Brooklyn, is struggling with a scholarship essay. His tutor wants him to describe the challenges he’s faced. Tray resists. “Poor black boy from the violent ghetto,” he says. “That ain’t my life. Ain’t gon be my life.” The tragedy of Kimber Lee’s plaintive brownsville song (b-side for tray) is that Tray (Sheldon Best) has so little life left. A loving big brother, a dogged amateur boxer and an exuberant, impetuous teenager, he’ll be killed — thoughtlessly, almost casually — soon after he finishes that essay. Ms. Lee’s moving if somewhat predictable play, directed by Patricia McGregor and produced by LCT3, means to make Tray’s death more than just “a few damn lines in the paper.” The drama moves back and forth in time, vaulting from the weeks and months before Tray’s shooting to its aftermath. Before his death, Tray lives with his strict, loving grandmother, Lena (Lizan Mitchell), and his quirky kid sister, Devine (Taliyah Whitaker). (While all the other girls in her creative-dance class twirl and flutter as swans, Devine sways in the background as a weeping willow.) Tray’s stepmother, Merrell (Sun Mee Chomet), a former addict, abandoned the family. Looking for a way to return, she’s offered to help him with his college essays.

  • HUFFINGTON POST REVIEW OF brownsville song (b-side for tray)

    First Nighter: Affecting "brownsville song (b-side for tray)"

    David Finkle

    October 21, 2014: Kimber Lee's brownsville song (b-side for tray)--the all-lower-case letters are Lee's stipulation--starts out at a tough level with gray-haired Lena (Lizan Mitchell) angrily declaring that the story about to unfold should not begin with her. While insisting, she does get across that the subject matter is a grandson, Tray (Sheldon Best), who was shot four times and killed as an innocent bystander in a local shoot-out. Thereupon the dead boy's story gets underway, and it's an upsetting one, as Lee intends it to be. Clearly, she has in mind putting forth one ghetto youngster to stand for all of the promising young men and women done in by stray bullets and who then turn up in the kind of news coverage that never seems to stop. Tray is a skilled boxer, who's also a candidate for a college education and a caring brother to younger sister Devine (Taliyah Whitaker). He's being tutored on his required college essay by Merrell (Sun Mee Chomet), who's his and Devine's estranged mother, a woman who lost her bearings after her husband died. By horrific coincidence, the dead husband and father was, like Tray, also killed by four bullets. The admirably and unfailingly good Tray holds down a Starbucks barista job, where Merrell, needing work, lands a position. Tray helps her learn the ropes, and he tolerates his pal Junior (Chris Myers), who's constitutionally sullen and doesn't get Tray.

  • VARIETY REVIEW OF brownsville song (b-side for tray)

    Off Broadway Review: ‘Brownsville Song (B-Side for Tray)’

    Marilyn Stasio

    October 20, 2014: As play titles go, brownsville song (b-side for tray) won’t set off a stampede at the Lincoln Center Theater box office. That’s too bad, because Kimber Lee’s heartfelt drama about the brief life and senseless death of a kid from a rough Brooklyn neighborhood has a lot to say about urban violence. Patricia McGregor’s smart helming of the play, which had its premiere at the Humana Festival earlier this year, translates the scribe’s poetic idiom into visually strong stage language, and a small but sure-footed cast gives the characters plenty of soul. Tray (a kid worth caring about, in Sheldon Best’s charismatic perf) is already dead when the play opens. But his heartbroken grandmother Lena (a fierce Lizan Mitchell) wants it understood that “he was not the same old story” of a gang-kid punk shot down in the street by another gang kid. That’s the signal for Andromache Chalfant’s wonderfully detailed set of a ghetto neighborhood to break apart into the multiple set pieces that define the limited space of Tray’s life. The apartment where he lived with his grandmother and eight-year-old half-sister, Devine (Taliyah Whitaker, adorable). The gym where he trained after school for the Golden Gloves. The Starbucks where he worked to save up money for college in the fall. The schoolroom where his mother, Merrell (Sun Mee Chomet), long estranged from the family but determined to make it up to Tray, is tutoring in his college application. And — impossible to escape — the dirty, noisy, graffiti-scarred and lethally dangerous street where he was carelessly shot down by a member of one of the neighborhood gangs who are constantly fighting for control of the block and its drug trade.

  • ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY REVIEW OF brownsville song (b-side for tray)

    brownsville song (b-side for tray) (2014) Review

    Jason Clark

    October 20, 2014: The title of the new play brownsville song (b-side for tray)—now playing at Lincoln Center's Claire Tow Theatre through Nov. 16—may be lower-cased, but its story is not: An 18-year-old Brooklyn teen becomes a victim of street violence and leaves a grieving family to pick up the pieces. But playwright Kimber Lee's treatment of the topic is decidedly lower-cased, opting for the shopworn tone of a litany of decades-old works on the same topic, only without their cumulative power. The play couldn't be more timely (even the name of its young victim shares the same first syllable of a much-publicized recent Florida shooting case). And Sheldon Best gives a terrific, layered performance as Tray, a restless but hard-working black high schooler who can't escape the mean streets. Lizan Mitchell plays his sturdy-as-a-rock, no-sass grandmother Lena (whose character is forced to say things like ''Boy, did you fall on 'yo head?''—sheesh); Taliyah Whitaker is his shy, stunted younger sister, Devine; and Sun Mee Chomet is the latter's absent mother Merrell, recently back in town after a rehab stint.

  • THEATERMANIA REVIEW OF brownsville song (b-side for tray)

    An all-too-realistic new play by Kimber Lee makes its New York debut at LCT3

    David Gordon

    October 20, 2014: Tray is an 18-year-old African-American kid from the projects who doesn't let his circumstances get him down. He's a boxer-in-training with big dreams for success. He's working on his college essay. He's a statistic. Tray is dead at the start of Kimber Lee's brownsville song (b-side for tray), and his grandmother and little sister are picking up the pieces of a promising life cut short by gun violence. In this New York premiere at LCT3's Claire Tow Theater, Lee showcases an authentic look at an all-too-common occurrence, plus the ways a family with nothing but one another copes with a loss of seismic proportions. Uncompromising in its examination of grief and big-hearted in its belief in forgiveness, brownsville song sings with the rhythms of an often-misrepresented community, following in the footsteps of Lorraine Hansberry and August Wilson. Like their plays, by its end brownsville song gets a tad unwieldy. But the gut punch of Patricia McGregor's staging makes up for any dramaturgical flaws.



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