May 31, 2012 | by Patrick Folliard
Psychology of abuse

Playwright Ira Kip in Washington last weekend for performances of her lesbian domestic violence drama ‘She’Baltimore.’ (Photo courtesy Kip)

At last weekend’s D.C.-area debut of writer/director Ira Kip’s new play “She’Baltimore,” the scene was set for a fight, possibly to the death. The production’s spare set suggested a boxing ring. There were the standard chairs in opposite corners, but instead of ropes, the ring was fenced by crime scene tape.

Set in Baltimore, Kip’s hour-long theater piece explores domestic violence within the LGBT community. It focuses on Linay (also Kip in a nuanced performance) and her girlfriend Ebone (nicely underplayed by Nicole McManus). They have their good times, but when things go wrong between them, they go toxically wrong, resulting in beatings and emergency room visits. Interestingly the playwright (who declines to state her own sexual orientation) has somewhat blurred the lines regarding blame: Yes, it’s Ebone who busts her lover’s lip, but then again there’s Linay’s explosive temper. And when Ebone makes a move to exit what she realizes is an unsalvageable relationship, it’s Linay who pleads with her to stay.

Before coming to D.C., “She’Baltimore” premiered in Amsterdam and then played in Baltimore. In celebration of D.C. Black Pride, the Blade sponsored the production’s two-night run at the Warehouse over Memorial Day weekend. And despite some problems beyond the production’s control — loud music blared from Warehouse’s neighbor, the New York Avenue Beach Bar; and Kip was called upon rather last minute to understudy for the actor slated to play Linay — the May 25th performance was a success.

Kip is a gifted playwright. She seamlessly shifts from lyrical prose to raw dialogue. The play’s vignette-like scenes can stand alone, but when strung together they’re more powerful, taking the audience deep into what defines the couple’s disturbing relationship — sexual attraction, beatings, affection, frustration, anger, drug abuse — it’s all there. Additionally, Linay and Ebone come with baggage. Both women are regrettably estranged from their families largely due to their sexuality.

The production’s five-member cast was made up of gay, straight and bisexual black women. As the narrator, Sherry Richardson intermittently relayed domestic violence crimes ripped from the local Baltimore nightly news. Heather Smith played a dismissive intake nurse with a bad attitude. While supplying comic relief, the character also searingly represents the system’s insensitivity and lack of training. And Nia Johnson was appealing as Angel, Linay’s emotional port in the storm.

A post-show discussion on the play’s theme featuring the cast was led by production assistant Bakari Jones.

Kip is Caribbean-born. She has lived in the Netherlands but now calls New York City home. Her play is partly an indictment of America’s reluctance to understand gay people’s lives more fully and its inability to properly respond to LGBT mental and physical health issues in relation to domestic abuse. “She’Baltimore” puts the spotlight on important but not widely discussed topics.

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