Like many Summer Williams productions, Josh Wilder’s Leftovers is a big-hearted play with big ideas that takes big risks. In this world premiere production, which will run at Dorchester’s Strand Theatre through Aug 18, those risks only pay off some of the time. But even when they don’t, they hint at something potentially extraordinary.
Jalil and Kwamaine are two brothers who have been raised by their single mother, Raquelle, who can barely make ends meet. Their father, Chris, is a truck driver struggling with addiction who doesn’t come around too often and whose empty promises have again left Jalil depressed when he doesn’t show up to his son’s high school graduation. It’s pretty much Groundhog Day around their rundown Philadelphia neighborhood where the only thing the brothers have to look forward to are trips to the corner store for soda and snacks, and reruns of The Cosby Show (Cosby’s downfall and conviction figure into the story in a major way). The younger brother, Kwamaine, in particular idolizes the Huxtables. One day, a giant dandelion grows out of the sidewalk next to their houses and stretches up to the sky, and so begins a fantastical urban fairy tale about hope, heroes, the Huxtables, and the audacity of young boys with brown skin who dream big.
Leftovers is a multilayered, odd, and refreshing new work that ought to be seen by anyone who cares about the future of American theater. There are still kinks to work out—the odd second act seems to go on and on—and greater care needs to be taken to balance out the different themes, which feel, at times, like they are competing. The performances are uneven as well, which adds to the feeling that this is very much an unfinished work. As Jalil and Kwamaine, Kadahj Bennett and Christian Scales are extraordinary. But I wanted more grit from Lyndsay Allyn Cox’s Raquelle and Colgan B. Johnson is unconvincing as deadbeat dad Chris.
Still, there is extraordinary value in having a play about a black family by a black playwright playing in a black neighborhood. This is what we need more of, and this is why Company One remains perhaps the most vital theater in our fair city. And with all performances pay-what-you-wish, there’s no reason to miss it.
LEFTOVERS. THROUGH 8.18 AT THE STRAND THEATRE, 543 COLUMBIA RD., BOSTON. COMPANYONE.ORG
Theater critic for TheaterMania & WBUR’s TheArtery | Theater Editor for DigBoston | film and music critic for EDGE Media | Boston Theater Critics Association.