Playwright Dave Harris decided to have a little fun while considering the American black experience. Once he met up with director Taylor Reynolds, the nebulous ideas coalesced into an exciting approach to the questions raised by Harris’ original thoughts. When asked about his inspiration for writing the show, Harris responded, “My writing almost always starts with whatever I’m deeply afraid of and then asking, ‘How do I create a fun way to explore that?’…I had just gotten a fellowship that I got through telling a bunch of sad, Black stories back to back…if you prove to us through your pain you deserve it the most, we will give you money…(but) why are we making ourselves re-experience a form of trauma for the sake of entertainment, for the sake of money, for the sake of applause?” But from fear and pain, Harris transformed TAMBO AND BONES into “a kind of party…there’s a lot of audience participation, even in the moments that feel like a traditional play.”
The audience first meets Tambo (W. Tre Davis) and Bones (Tyler Fauntleroy) at a minstrel show where pratfalls and slapstick abound. Two black men find themselves part of this show – but they don’t belong. After all, minstrel shows were opportunities for white performers to wear black face and pretend to be black. Tambo and Bones see this as an analog to black history, where fake blacks and fake whites interacted – but never as true equals. But they soon find themselves slipping from the past to a time closer to the present – where blacks can find a kind of fame and fortune in the theater via the world of pop music and rap. Continuing in the satirical vein, Tambo and Bones meet again in the near future, the winners in a war of white genocide – but who is the winner? And what about robots X1 (Tim Kopacz) and X2 (Alexander Neher). Where do they fit in?
TAMBO & BONES is a creative foray, partly a flashy show and partly a chance for the audience to let out their emotions. During the opening night performance, the audience certainly gave their full approval as they rose from their seats and gyrated to the rhythms of the music, sometimes with verbal comments, while clapping and urging Tambo and Bones to keep it up and go way over the top.
TAMBO & BONES is a lively and refreshing show whose message is often subtle and underwritten with satire. Kudos to director Taylor Reynolds, who helms the proceedings with glee and enthusiasm. Kudos too to W. Tre Davis and Tyler Fauntleroy, who keep up the pace throughout the energetic shenanigans. Finally, congratulations to the production team. Stephanie Osin Cohen’s scenic design allows rapid-fire alterations and fanciful backgrounds – but also the hyped extravaganzas associated with pop music spectaculars. Let’s not forget Amith Chandrashaker’s and Mextly Couzin’s dramatic and dazzling lighting and Mikhail Fiksel’s resounding sound. Original music by Justin Ellington adds to the overall drama and unflagging thrills. Dominique Fawn Hill’s costumes are essential to show changes in mood and tone as the tale progresses.
TAMBO & BONES runs through May 29, 2022, with performances at 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Sundays. The Kirk Douglas Theatre is located at 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232. Tickets range from $30 to $75. For information and reservations, call 213-628-2772 or go online.