by Beki Pineda

LAST NIGHT AND THE NIGHT BEFORE – Written by Donnetta Lavinia Grays; Directed by Valerie Curtis-Newton. Produced by Denver Center Theatre Company (presented in the Ricketson Theatre, 14th and Curtis, Denver) through February 24. Tickets available at 303-893-4100 or denvercenter.org.

What starts as a seemingly, too familiar domestic drama – a woman fleeing from her home town with her daughter to her sister’s door – quickly turns into a deeper, darker mystery. What exactly is she running away from? Her husband seems to be a loving father, so why leave him? Is she running to something or from something? Why is her sister’s partner so hesitant to accept them into their home? What is her true intent? All of these questions are still rolling around at intermission.

Couched in the soft patois of Southern dialect, the story unfolds slowly but never quite gets around to answering the “why?” of what rolls out. Drugs are involved, masculine pride gets bruised, unresolved police issues arise with part of the story told in memory and part happening in real time. Everyone’s primary concern is for the well-being of the innocent (or is she?) little girl.

Enacted by a powerful troupe of actors all making their debut at the Denver Center, this feels like a show that could be picked up and traveled intact to another city for another production. Zaria Kelley as Sam brings a maturity and level of experience beyond her apparent years to her role, having appeared in movies, videos, and hosting a YouTube series for kids. Bianca Laverne Jones and Erin Cherry are the loving partners who take in the fleeing family, even though it causes them personal strife. The loving but troubled mother with larcenous intent is played by Keona Welch. As the lone male in the cast, Sharod Choyce grounds the story by proving to be a loving and protective father.

“Not last night but the night before, 24 robbers came to my door.

They stole my watch and they stole my ring and then they all began to sing.”

This is one version of the popular kids hand clapping or jump roping game practiced by young girls which has been passed on to them by their big sisters and mothers. While you can beat out the patterns with one set of hands or one jump rope, they are more fun when done with a partner or a couple of other people turning the rope and chanting with you. Sam, the little girl at the heart of this play, is temporarily relegated to chanting on her own. But because of her resilience, her ability to stand up for herself, and the fact that she is surrounded by individuals who love her in different ways, the audience is left with the sure knowledge that she will survive to jump rope another day.

A WOW factor of 8!!