PROVO — An Other Theater Company’s latest streaming production is Something to Cry About, an original devised work by Shelby Noelle Gist and Dorsey Williams. Directed by Gist, the short and meaningful play, running just under 40 minutes, is definitely worth fitting into your schedule.
Something to Cry About stars Williams as Donald, a 17-year-old high school student on the basketball team. The play documents a court-ordered therapy session between Donald and his therapist (an off-screen voice) after an incident that occurred during a school basketball game. Through this interaction, as Donald shares his experience as a black teenage boy in America, Something to Cry About tenderly confronts themes of race, identity, and mental health.
As Donald, Williams is exciting to watch as he dribbles his basketball and imitates playing the game at times. Williams embodies a teenager and his genuine body language communicates his emotions well. I enjoyed watching him grapple with the therapist’s probing questions, sometimes becoming frustrated and at other times vulnerable. Williams truly shines in the moments when his character shows glimpses of his gut reactions and feelings to the personal and complex questions the therapist is asking.
Gist’s simple but practical direction resonates throughout the show as the acting and language feel very authentic. As Donald addresses his therapist, the camera is straight on and Donald is generally more reserved in his expression. During the character’s more honest asides to the audience, different camera angles are utilized, and Donald is expressive and animated. The choice to include these moments allows more insight into the character and works as an entertaining and effective narrative device that also translated very well for the production to be filmed.
In this year where racial unrest and social justice issues have garnered utmost attention, I have had the opportunity to educate myself on race in America and reckon with the harsh realities therein. While I have been realizing my privilege and naïveté more and more lately, this theatrical telling is deeply illuminating and resonated with me on another level. As Donald works through his own thoughts and discomforts on how to answer how he handles racism or if he feels black, questions he feels are vastly too broad, I was viscerally affected by his story. It is a story that I have been previously insulated from, but one that black Americans acutely experience throughout their lives. I have never quite looked at a piece of theatre through this precise lens before, and I found Something to Cry About particularly timely and important, providing opportunities for empathy and support.
The relationship between Donald and his therapist is ultimately quite touching. As the two engage in a healthy, robust, and honest dialogue, Donald begins to feel heard and the two characters learn from each other and come out of the interaction better because of it. It is clear to me that these issues must not be ignored, but discussed and processed for growth and progress to be made. With an emphasis on mental health, Something to Cry About offers a hopeful message and is one of healing, something that is desperately needed right now. This country must do better, always working toward a future where equality and safety for all is paramount.