Friday, March 17, 2023

K-I-S-S-I-N-G A play by Lenelle Moïse



A play by Lenelle Moïse

A Front Porch Arts Collective production in collaboration with The Huntington,at Calderwood Pavilion, through April 2, 2023

By Andy Hoffman

If you have ever wondered what might draw you back to live theater after the pandemic, the Huntington has the answer for you: Lenelle Moïse’s K-I-S-S-I-N-G, a laugh-out-loud-funny and joyous celebration of young love and high hopes. Created in collaboration between The Front Porch Arts Collective and the Huntington, K-I-S-S-I-N-G follows sixteen-year-old Lala (Regan Sims) on her voyage of discovery of herself through love, art, and family. By turns comic and heart-breaking, K-I-S-S-I-N-G represents theater at its very best, showing what a group of visionary and talented artists can invent. The script, its performance, the set, and direction elevate the very air of the Calderwood Pavilion, and the audience responded in kind. Not since I saw the original cast of HAMILTON have I experienced a night of theater of this power and quality.

Lala, the product of a teenage romance herself, possesses talent and brilliance, but has little exposure to life outside her urban neighborhood. Her parents, long separated, seem at a loss to understand her. We first meet her at a park, where she has taken her mute half brother Max to a playground, her first outing since catching his chicken pox. She just wants to enjoy the sunshine and a burger when Albert (Ivan Cecil Walks), a fellow teenager, spots her and tries to put his smooth moves on her. Enraged by his presumption, she cuts him down and sends him packing.

Albert was at the park with his twin brother Dani (Sharmarke Yusuf), who watches the demolition with pleasure. Dani and Albert, born into wealth, struggle with being black and rich, trying to find a place for themselves in a world which doesn’t have a code for them. Albert tries being blacker, as though he’s from the ‘hood rather than his posh suburb. Dani just immerses himself in the advantages of his life – art, knowledge, and nature. Months later, Lala and Dani run into one another at a bus stop, the same way Lala’s parents met, and they discover a soul-mate in one another. Their relationship grows but hits a snag as Lala begin to feel desire for physical contact, while Dani identifies as asexual. These young people don’t have the emotional sophistication or social skill to navigate this trouble. When Lala attends Dani’s prom with him, the night ends in confusion and disappointment.

The set for K-I-S-S-I-N-G is itself an extraordinary achievement. The abstract shapes dangling from the fly space and the rotating structure center stage at first appear as a decrepit urban landscape and then as neighborhood trees, only reaching their full purpose when Dani takes Lala to a museum. The surfaces become layered projections of the art they see, and the coordination between the maturing relationship between the teens and their personal growth gives the story its power. The use of art, dance and music throughout the production extracts the highest level of passion from Lenelle Moïse’s poetic script. Everyone involved in K-I-S-S-I-N-G deserves recognition for their brilliant work, especially director Dawn M. Simmons, who brings together these remarkable pieces into an extraordinary evening of theater.

K-I-S-S-I-N-G is one of the first products of the three-year partnership of the Huntington with Front Porch Arts Collective, a Black theatre company committed to advancing racial equity in Boston through theatre. In residence at The Huntington, Front Porch Arts Collective creates a place where Black perspectives and experiences become an integral part of the global conversation, fostering a greater understanding of our shared human condition. Cambridge native and Northampton resident and former poet laurate Lenelle Moïse wrote the play on commission from Clark University. Go see it as soon as possible. You owe it to yourself.

Dr. Andrew Hoffman reviews theater here regularly. He has published novels, biography, literary criticism, poetry, games, and screenplays. He holds a PhD in English from Brown and software patents. He can be reached at

Sunday, March 12, 2023

The Red Letters

 The Red Letters



In ancient Rome, feast days were indicated on the calendar by red letters.  To my mind, all poetry and art serves as a reminder that every day we wake together beneath the sun is a red-letter day.


                                                                                                          – Steven Ratiner






Red Letter Poem #151





Back when my mother was alive – a widow then in her late seventies, and on what would be her last visit to my home up in Boston – we made a pot of coffee together and spent the morning trading stories with this theme: all the things we’d never told each other.  These tales about wild adventure, foolish peril, and narrow escapes, produced in us such a strange emotional amalgam: bursts of laughter mixed with solemn astonishment.  Somehow, it was affirming, though – to learn that we all carry old secrets and that, for the most part, we survive them.  Today’s Red Letter poem got me thinking about hindsight – what we can (and cannot) learn from the tonnage of memory we tow around with us most of our lives.  If hindsight is, as they say, 20-20, you’d think that perfect vision would be an invaluable resource for steering wisely into the future.  And yet. . . 


Somewhere in the Oedipus plays, Sophocles offers some caution about gazing in the rearview: “I have no desire to suffer twice, in reality and then in retrospect.”  And yet, after two dozen centuries, audiences still experience the play with hearts fully-engaged – hoping, perhaps, to learn enough from old suffering to avoid the new (though, we understand, new challenges will be continually barreling toward us from the road ahead.)  Though Dan Carey is a fairly young poet, he has become adept at mining personal history: for the insights the conscious mind craves; for the honest ache the heart feels compelled to preserve.  Dan is a native son of Ipswich, Massachusetts; he received his B.A. in English from Suffolk University and, in 2021, completed his M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Lesley University’s Low-Residency Program.  I know some of the marvelous poets he studied with, and they tell me his great promise was quickly apparent.  Since graduation, Dan’s published three issues of Paradise in Limbo, a magazine he created as a way of furthering his literary apprenticeship; and some of his own poems have begun to find their way into magazines like Crosswinds, Anti-Heroin Chic, and DropOut Literary Journal.  He currently manages social media for Grid Books/Off the Grid Press, and works as a substitute teacher.


In today’s poem, he recalls driving through a storm high in the Rocky Mountains – and the grandeur of the scene both magnifies his brush with mortality and places it in the larger context.  It provokes a question we must repeatedly ask ourselves: how far can love carry us through this treacherous landscape?  The poem, as artifact, highlights the double-nature that is inherent in the art form: deep observation of the present moment that, somehow, cannot quite reveal its significance until some distant future.  Strange oracle – this far-sightedness that requires hindsight for its translation.  If Dan’s writing experience is anything like mine, his notebook is full of poems that seem to grasp some deeper understanding of circumstance for which our conscious minds will require months (or even years) to catch up to.  It makes me wish for this talented poet, at the outset of his career, that a day will come – years and years from now –when he’ll be drinking coffee with his mother and marveling over how surprising their journeys have been.  A poem like “Hindsight” may stand as one of those markers along the way, directing us: Life, icy roadway, bear right.






Ten-thousand feet above sea level,

creeping through Colorado, a two-wheel drive,

our Civic astounds us.  Pressure in the altitude

and traffic—I touch my face, sweating and alive,

hands at ten and two.  The storm we watched

break over the Rockies like a kiss goodbye

unburies itself now from the clouds

right over us, and hail appears.


We build cars to withstand weather,

but when they rust, they rust quicker

than most people.  People—what stinks

we make on our way out!  Against

our windshields, gumball-sized pellets

crack our comfort zones, like a critic’s

rejection of my “shitty first drafts”—

if only I had more time.  Death associates

from every direction.  What do I do?

Face it?  Who would I tell I love you?


We descend the mountain, and soon

I’ll learn this was the day Mom first

heard cancer, maybe at the same time

I let my own death drift in as I drove,

wanting, bad, for someone to feel

for me, hypochondriac ventriloquist.

Put it any way you want, I’m the son

who’s forever at a loss for words.



                 ––Dan Carey




The Red Letters 3.0


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To learn more about the origins of the Red Letter Project, check out an essay I wrote for Arrowsmith Magazine:


and the Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene


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