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In "Black Top Sky", Recent Headlines are Inspiration for Urban Tale

“He was minding his own business!”

It’s the opening line of dialogue in Know Theatre’s regional premiere Black Top Sky, and it’s a sentence we all heard so often on the national news through 2015, every time folks with iPhones captured some egregious behavior by bad cops who fired on unarmed young African-American men.

When 18 year-old Ida (Aziza Macklin) cries it again and again at the center of the Know stage, it gives Christina Anderson’s Black Top Sky a torn-from-the-headlines immediacy.

Ida was an eyewitness to the tazing near the housing project where she lives, just one of many things that prey on her mind – her uneasy relationship with her mother; her vague concerns about the quick temper of her mechanic boyfriend Wynn (Landon Horton), sweet as pie till he’s crossed; her concern for her future; her growing interest in homeless Klass (Kameron Richardson), who has moved into the courtyard shared by the seven-story apartment buildings where inhabitants see everything but sun and stars.

It feels a lot like the ordinary stuff that troubles everyone – reminding us real life can be plenty dramatic.

Black Top Sky is a young person’s play – written about young, urban adults by a clearly a young writer. Anderson doesn’t develop Ida or Wynn but they’re recognizable types and played with conviction by Macklin, a former Ensemble Theatre intern, and Horton, a Northern Kentucky University theater major.

Klass is given a solid backstory that reminds us that bad stuff happens to people who don’t deserve it and steers them down roads to worse places than they ever could have imagined.

Richardson, a University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music (CCM) musical theater senior, has real stage presence and acting chops in the role, and he knows what to do with the attention-grabbing monologue late in the 85-minute one-act in which he tells his story with a pile of T-shirts.

Anderson tells her story -- which includes the unfortunate if not surprising arc of the off-stage taser victim Antonio -- in more than 20 blackout scenes, some just a few seconds long.

It doesn’t always work but the play feels as if Anderson is communicating to an audience of her own generation who speak the same short-hand of texting, tweeting, snap-chatting, Instagram-ing.

Black Top Sky looks and feels like a young person’s experiment at the right price. It’s easy to go along with the efforts of the playwright; director Kimberly Faith Hickman, who deftly holds everything together and maintains a “what’s next?” tension; and to her cast.

NKU senior Horton, who’s a playwriting major, says he’s learned a lot working on Black Top Sky.

“I have learned that capturing a moment in time can be expressed on so many different avenues, but still all relate to the main thought of the story. How one incident has affected all of the characters on all walks of life.”

Horton says he chose playwriting “because I wanted to get a better understanding of what it means to construct a story. It only makes sense that as an actor I should broaden my knowledge in not only being on stage but also being the creator of what is being portrayed on stage.”

He especially likes writing monologues, which “seem to grab hold of the audience’s attention quicker and hold it longer.”

At the moment he’s working on a 10-minute play that’s part of a class exercise on the theme, The Zoo. He’s not saying more since it’s “still under construction.”  

He’s also keeping future plans to himself.

Black Top Sky, through Feb. 20. Know Theatre, 1120 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine. 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $20; $10 rush seats 10 minutes before curtain when available (cash only). 513-300-5669 and http://knowtheatre.com.

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts
Photo by Daniel Winters (provided)