“America is beautiful after all”

A Review of The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears

playing at Book-It Reportory Theatre

by Molly L.

Spring brings new perspectives for Sepha, an Ethiopian immigrant living in the Logan Circle neighborhood of Washington D.C., having come to America for the promise of a better life. Now he reflects on the past, filled with connections and pain, in America and Africa. With his fellow immigrant friends, he names coups in his small grocery store and remembers his family, especially his dead father.

Sepha thinks of Judith, who he loved, the only white woman to live in his neighborhood. She’s gone now. From changes in the neighborhood rose violence, driving Judith out.

Sepha remembers Naomi, Judith’s bi-racial daughter, as the sweet presence in this play, the beautiful thing borne by heaven. In the store, Sepha and Naomi read books aloud and imagine, making up fantastic stories about their butler/chauffeur monkey, Henry.

Dinaw Mengestu’s first novel turned play has a fun and playful atmosphere, full of laughter and energy, but underlying this are themes of pain and discrimination. Sepha’s father in Ethiopia was dragged away and shot because he went against the government, and Judith’s house receives threats and damage because Judith is the only white woman in the neighborhood.

This story is perfect for springtime, when we remember how wonderful it is to be alive and free. With happiness and laughter, this play energizes the audience and changes the way we think about new things and about going home: “[t]here is a simple and startling power to that phrase: going back home. There’s an implied contradiction, a sense of moving forward and backward at the same time, but there’s no tension in the phrase. Instead, the contradiction gives in to something else: an understanding, perhaps, that what you’re returning to can never be the same as what you left.”

A question of loyalty is asked in this show, of Sepha, and the whole audience. Who should we be loyal to? Should we work harder on our loyalty to the past or to the future, to Africa, or to America, to old friends or new, to memories or to our dreams.

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears plays now through May 9th

at Book-It Repertory Theatre, located in Seattle Center at the Center House Theatre

visit www.book-it.org or call 206.216.0833 for tickets and more information
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