ToasT OFF-BROADWAY REVIEWS

Photo: Hiroko Masuike
  • NY TIMES

  • Opening Night:
    April 21, 2015
    Closing:
    May 10, 2015

    Theater: The Public Theater / 425 Lafayette Street, New York, NY, 10003

    Synopsis: 

    "ToasT," is an electrifying new play by acclaimed poet/playwright and Tony Award® winning writer Lemon Andersen (The Public’s "County of Kings: The Beautiful Struggle," HBO’s “Def Poetry”), directed by Andersen’s County of Kings collaborator Elise Thoron. A Public Theater commission first presented at The Public’s Under the Radar Festival, "ToasT" ingeniously weaves major characters from black oral narratives into a gripping story about a group of inmates fighting to keep their minds free amidst the 1971 riots that rocked Attica Prison. After 27 years served for murder in Attica’s D-Block, Willie Green, aka the legendary Dolomite, has become an unlikely father figure to his cellmates, folklore heroes like Jesse James, Hobo Ben, Annabelle Jones, Stackolee and Hard Rock. When word brews throughout Attica that a riot is coming, Dolomite has to decide whether to join in or bet on the quickly approaching chance to taste freedom. Honoring the spoken word narratives recited in pool halls, bars and prisons across America by generations of black poets, "ToasT" is a stunning new play about men trying to live free in a system—and a world—designed to keep them chained.

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  • NEW YORK TIMES REVIEW OF ToasT

    ‘ToasT’ Where Words Are a Cellblock’s Weapon of Choice

    Ben Brantley

    May 5, 2015: Watch out for the boys in Cellblock D. They may appear less threatening than some of the other Attica prison inmates in the tumultuous year of 1971. But these guys are packing poetry. Try messing with one of them, and before you can say “Jean Genet,” he’ll have pulled a loaded metaphor on you. Artfully arranged words, lofty and lowdown, are the weapons of choice in “ToasT,” Lemon Andersen’s ambitious and unwieldy new play about versifying behind bars, which opened on Tuesday night at the Public Theater. To secure status within the band of convicts portrayed in this long and congested drama, a man must be able to chant, riff and soar in the form that gives the play its title. That’s toast, which in this case, has nothing to do with bread, or what someone calls you if you are doomed. And it is only marginally related to the sort of speeches made by best men over champagne flutes. Instead, toast, as it is practiced on the eve of the world-shaking Attica riots more than 40 years ago, is a kind of tall-tale variation on what the larger world would come to know as rap. Performing a toast that will command respect is the goal of Jesse James (Armando Riesco), an Attica newbie when the play begins, and a lone Puerto Rican amid the African-Americans in his cellblock. Eventually, he’ll achieve that distinction, with a long, cadenced narrative about “the signifying monkey” who makes a fool of the arrogant lion.

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