Harrison David Rivers’ “Sweet” debuted at the launch of the National Black Theatre’s 48th season, giving audiences a glimpse into the secret pursuit of Black joy.
“Sweet” takes place in a Central US community during the late 1960s. Despite the tumultuous era for the whole country, especially Black America, this small all-Black town seems slightly insulated from the chaos, freeing our humble characters to pursue their joy.
Sisters Retha and Nina are inseparable until their mother unexpectedly dies, leaving the girls without an anchor.
When a childhood friend, George, returns home from college with all of his new culture and open eyes to the world, old memories and preteen crushes rush back nearly tearing the sisters apart.
It’s more than a coming of age story. The lessons the sisters learn on their journey somehow forces the pair out of their comfort zone to ultimately discover their own, individual happiness.
Retha, the eldest sister, holds onto tradition and her mother’s legacy so tightly that she puts her dreams on hold. Stuck on restrictive interpretations of mother’s old lessons and parables, Ruthie masks her grief with tasks and chores, smiling when she’s sad, ultimately delaying tomorrow.
But a rebellious, selfish sister, Nina only seeks her own satisfaction, running recklessly full speed ahead. After the sisters’ mother dies, Nina relinquishes her freedom sometimes uncomfortably nudging her sister to do the same. Despite Retha’s hopeless pleas, Nina charges forth forward, unafraid of consequence or shame.
Playwright Harrison David Rivers says “Sweet” is his imagining of a sisterhood he never had. Raised in a small town in Kansas with a house full of boys, Harrison recalls some of the old time phrases mama used to say in the summer or the way the family enjoyed simple things.
“I would like people to witness Black lives in the every day, watch these three characters love and lose and ache and to watch them fold laundry, laugh together, sing together and dance together,” Rivers says. “When I go to theatre, and I go to a lot of theatre, I rarely get to see people do the things I do everyday. For me, this play is about that, watching Black bodies move through space the way we move through space.”
It’s a timely depiction of a climate Black people are particularly familiar with these days, but serves as a reminder that we too need love and happiness. While riots and marches and wars were waging all around, this cast of characters finds respite in simple living, reveling in old memories, unveiling their desires and exploring true love.
Maechi Aharanwa (Retha) and Renika Williams (Nina) share an incredible sister like chemistry on stage, effortlessly playing to each others’ strengths. Aharanwa describes the cast as family and they certainly perform that way.
Tré Davis, (George) plays the childhood friend and love interest. Convincing the crowd of his inner turmoil, Davis charms the audience with his boyish wiles. With only a three person cast, one might expect a light impact. But on the contrary the story is full, each of the characters is well formed and connects with the audience in one way or another. It’s easy to find yourself sort of watching your life play out on stage, connecting with Retha, Nina and George as they take this journey in self discovery.
It’s a story that reminds us to take a breath in the midst of the chaos and remember self care. Rivers’ writing is clean, simple, reminiscent and joyful. “Sweet” is sweet.
The show will run through November 20th at the National Black Theatre in Harlem. Tickets are on sale now starting at $20. Learn more at www.nationalblacktheatre.com.