Theater concentrator Silma Berrada ’22 wanted to explore the question of how the past informs the way we love today. In order to do so, she wrote “B + M,” a play that grapples with the complexities of Black love through the characters Blessed and Messiah.
“It's a question that lingers in my mind, it still does,” Berrada said in an interview with The Daily Princetonian, “because I haven't found an answer yet, but I think I tried to use this in a way to explore that.”
“B + M” is a love story centered around Blessed, a writer in her 20s who, in Berrada’s words, is “stuck in the past.” In an attempt to cure her writer’s block, Blessed plans a road trip, and right before she leaves, she meets Messiah, a fellow 20-something year old and a painter.
“[Messiah] is a weird character,” Berrada said. “He has a pet chicken!”
“B + M” is one of three productions premiering this month as part of the Lewis Center for the Arts’ (LCA) New Works Festival, which showcases interdisciplinary and dramatic works from seniors in the theater program. It features a play and an accompanying art installation written and designed by Berrada. Theater lecturer Shariffa Ali is producing the New Works Festival and is also Berrada’s theater advisor.
“It has been really remarkable to have gone through this long journey with Silma to now arrive in-person,” Ali told the ‘Prince.’ “Our journey began on Zoom, as did our creative process. And over the course of last term, we checked in, in-person.”
“Now that the actors are here, it feels like all the dreaming and ideation is finally coming to fruition,” she continued.
In her role as both a producer and an advisor, Ali has supported Berrada in developing her script and bringing her ideas to life, including bringing in Jasmine Rush and Augustus Cook, two New York-based actors who will assume the mantles of Blessed and Messiah respectively.
Berrada is very grateful for the support from Ali and everyone else who has helped “B + M” come to life.
“I wouldn't be able to do this without the community that is supporting me,” Berrada said. “I don't even know how to begin thanking everyone that's helped me even make this possible, and it means so much to me that there's all these people that are trying to help me tell my story.”
One of the newer additions to Berrada’s team is director Nica Evans ’24. Evans joined the production only a couple of weeks ago after her friend Taneyah Jolly ’24, who was originally supposed to direct, could no longer do so. Although Evans faced a large task with little time, she agreed to take over when Jolly reached out to her out of interest in the subject matter.
“She told me it was about Black love,” Evans told the ‘Prince,’ “[and] of course, Black love is always something I want to highlight.”
“B + M” will be Evans’s first opportunity to direct an in-person production at the University and see it through to opening night. She previously directed a play for Theatre Intime’s Freshman One Act Festival over Zoom. She also started directing the annual play put on by the Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources and Education (SHARE) Office during first-year orientation before it was cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns.
“I’m definitely excited to see [‘B+M’] actually put on stage, seeing the actors move around and interact. [And] the set is really cool, so I’m looking forward to that,” Evans said.
Evans explained what she hopes people will take away from the play, both about young love and about Black love.
“Love is scary!” Evans. “There's not something wrong with you. Young love is just simply scary, and sometimes you have to go through things [to] grow as a person.”
With regards to Black love, Evans said, “Shariffa and Silma and I were talking about how [Messiah] is very open about how he feels in a more young, childlike way. It's just nice to have a portrayal that's not the stereotypical Black man who's mysterious and doesn't say anything.”
Ali echoed Evans’s thoughts.
“It's just remarkable to hear [the actors] talk about how Silma’s works defy stereotype,” Ali said. “Silma’s works defy convention and cliché. She is really honing into the detail and nuance of this particular dynamic and this particular couple, and I just love how it's turning out.”
Berrada herself said she hopes that people walk away from the production knowing that it is okay to be vulnerable, since writing the play was an exercise in vulnerability.
“There's a power in that. There's a strength in that that I wasn't willing to admit for a while,” Berrada said.
Ali commended Berrada’s efforts.
“I think Silma has affirmed what we know to be true: that as people, we are complex, beautiful, nuanced, emotional, delicate, tender, fragile, poetic, and deeply spiritual beings,” Ali said. “And I feel like this piece and the installation is a tribute to that.”
“B + M” premieres Friday Feb. 18 at 8 p.m. in the LCA CoLab and has a second showing Sunday Feb. 20 at 2 p.m. The accompanying art installation will also be available to view in the CoLab on Saturday Feb. 19 from 12–6 p.m.
Auhjanae McGee is a junior in the English department and a senior writer for The Prospect. McGee previously served as Head Prospect Editor at ‘the Prince’. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter at @auhj_marie, or on Instagram at @marionettes_jubalee.