So the first question would be "Stew? Stew who? Who knew from Stew?" This writing is beginning to tip perilously toward Dr. Seuss, I can feel it.
Perhaps you are one of the fortunate people who know who this man is. Not I, said the little red hen. As a matter of fact, I still don't really know "Who is Stew?" I don't know and I don't care, because this is a performer who takes no prisoners. He hurls himself onto the stage and swoops you into his arms before you can say, "I'm sorry. Have we met?"
This is the story of a young man coming of age, running from his black life in L.A. to the great goulash of Europe: Amsterdam and Berlin. Here he finds a whole new way of seeing and interacting. He thinks he has left behind the oddballs from his childhood and his mother who sends love like darts with feather boas across the ocean and over the telephone wires. What makes this a remarkable evening is the presence of Stew who weaves himself in and out of the story like a great Buddha. He is the MC of what appears to be his own life's story. It's a neat trick.
While the second act lacks the zip of the first, the performers never let you down. Each is wild and talented and brave. With the exception of Breaker, each performer plays so many roles it's difficult to keep track, but the many incarnations are clean and crisp. It's a sort of Hair for 2007, and infinitely more interesting than its uptown cousin, Spring Awakening.
And this is one of those plays that will, in its own way, be an homage to August Wilson. This is not because Wilson was a great writer, but because he got himself produced, thanks in no small part to Lloyd Richards and Yale Rep. In his wake is coming fine, fine work about black Americans, which is something long overdue.
Book and lyrics by Stew; music by Stew and Heidi Rodewald; directed and created in collaboration with Annie Dorsen
WITH: De’Adre Aziza (Edwina/Marianna/Sudabey), Daniel Breaker (Youth), Eisa Davis (Mother), Colman Domingo (Mr. Franklin/Joop/Mr. Venus), Chad Goodridge (Hugo/Christophe/Terry), Rebecca Naomi Jones (Sherry/Renata/Desi) and Stew (Narrator).
Sets by David Korins; costumes by Elizabeth Hope Clancy; lighting by Kevin Adams; sound by Tony Smolenski IV;
At the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, at Astor Place, East Village; (212) 967-7555. Through July 1. Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes.