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CENTER STAGE REVIEW: "Sunset Baby" Is Full Of Daylight, Actors Give Radiant Performance

THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, California - THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, California — Leave it up to James Wheatley to find stage productions most directors would pass on to avoid controversy, putting actors in a uncomfortable setting, or offending its patrons.

But since 1998, Wheatley has kindly mastered the drama aspects of suspense, absurdity, and disgust. That’s why his latest theater work is a must-see five times the power.

Wheatley, the founder and artistic director of Celebration Arts community theater took a risk, another one of his pleasant dangers, to produce “Sunset Baby” by Dominique Morisseau. The show ends Nov. 6 in East Sacramento. Make your reservations now.

Celebration Arts Theater put together a polished cast for Sunset Baby. Seated is Brooklynn Solomon (Nina), Andre Ramey (Kenyatta), right, and Tory Scoggins (Damon).

Inspired by Hip Hop artist and actor Tupac Shakur, but not about rapper who was killed in 1996, Sunset Baby is an edgy, intense, lusty, and sensitive play dripping with foul language. It’s just the type of vehicle Wheatley wants to drive and transport passengers to a better understanding of fractured love.

Sunset Baby is daring, however, it reflects many social issues that are current in the today’s world. This yarn is a superb way of submitting to Morisseau’s style of playwriting, which Wheatley did.

“Only James would do this this kind of play in the city,” said Andre Ramey, who portrays Kenyatta Shakur in Sunset Baby. “Nobody else is going to touch this. I love modern scripts and this play was right up my alley. It was written in 2012. It’s so relevant to what’s going on in our day and age. The political-movement overtones are so needed.”

Sunset Baby centers around Kenyatta’s moody reunion with his daughter, Nina, who is played by Brooklynn Solomon. Kenyatta, a Black revolutionary and political prisoner, deserted Nina when she was the precious age of five.

Nina and Keyatta hardly know each other but are bound by Ashanti X, Nina’s mother, an iconic member of the Black Power movement who has passed on. A few “letters” left by Ashanti for Nina create a bundle of disagreements and anger.

Solomon has Nina’s character down pat and she looks great in the role, too. Of the three characters in the play, the third being Damon (played by Tory Scoggins), Solomon had the challenging task of interacting with Kenyatta and Damon to her wit’s end.

“It’s emotionally draining. So much emotions,” Solomon told PUBLICITY AGENTS of Nina’s dilemmas. “You deal with feelings of abandonment, resentment, and mistrust. When I first read the first 20 pages (of the script), I was like, ‘whoa...I need to do this show.’ It’s an amazing part.”

Photo Art from Friday, Oct. 28, 2016, performance of Dominique Morisseau's Sunset Baby at Celebration Arts Theater, in Sacramento, Calif.

In his sixth Celebration Arts production, Scoggins lets you know who Damon is, what Damon is about, and what Damon wants. Damon and Nina are lovers and partners in crime.

Morisseau’s dialogue for Damon is ghetto-ish. But the seasoned writer and actress sent a message that Damon is a reflection of many tough Black males who get caught up in the streets.

At one point in the play, Nina and Damon debate about moving to another country, London, England or Brazil, the latter that has many impoverished areas.

During the process, Damon’s language resembles an intellectual college student rather than a cocaine-drug-dealing-stick-up guy. Scoggins was passionate at delivering the line.

“I’m not choosing the slums. I’m just saying what’s over there. It’s also beautiful women Latin folks that are really Black and political consciousness in the lowest masses,” says Damon. “Social dynamite. That’s what they got over there.”

The story is set in Brooklyn, New York, and is told in a few days mixed in with Kenyatta’s five monologues in front of a video camera. Ramey truly understood Kenyatta’s character as well as Nina’s and Damon’s persona despite the generation gap that separates the trio.

The audience will also approve the music by Nina Simone, who Kenyatta reminds his daughter that she is named after the singer, songwriter, pianist, and civil rights activist.

Politically and socially, Sunset Baby is brutally honest on so many levels. It also has a way of stirring the soul to the point where Ramey, Solomon, and Scoggins will stay etched in the viewer’s mind long after the curtains fall on the play.

On a scale of 5, Celebration Arts’ deserve a 5.1 rating for excellence. There’s nothing but award-winning performances.

There are only four shows left of Sunset Baby: Nov. 3, 4, 5, and Sunday Nov. 6. For showtimes and ticket prices, call (916) 455-2787. Celebration Arts is at 4469 D Street in Sacramento, California.

Photo Art and Review by T. Ray Harvey

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