Between Me and Them is a coming-of-age story told using the framing of therapy sessions and personified inner troubles. KiDané Kelati's searingly vulnerable script and performance tackles topics such as bisexuality, daddy issues, body dysmorphia and heartbreak.
The story jumps between key excerpts of Kelati's life and his therapy session as he unpacks them. Kelati's portrayals of characters such as his mother, teachers and classmates are detailed, studied and, at times, very comedic. He transforms his body language and vocals to fully embody these characters and his personified struggles. Every character is unique and entertaining. His work as a character actor is impressive. However, some of the moments of emotional vulnerability came across as forced. For example, in the ending scene of the play, he sits alone with his issues and his birthday cupcake. He sings Happy Birthday to himself before blowing the candle out. As he sings, he holds back tears. This onslaught of emotions rang disingenuous as the tears he held back weren't really present. Instead of forcing emotions that didn't arise, he could have leaned into the truth of the emotional life he experienced in that moment onstage. Maybe then, this closing tableau would land even more powerfully.
Kelati opens the show with a scene where he comes out to his mother. Then, the lights go down and the scene quickly shifts. He doesn't return to this moment in the show. The audience doesn't know how his mother responded or how coming out impacted Kelati. This omission is one of a few loose ends the script never ties up. Another example is a romantic plot Kelati mentions many times in therapy. A boy he is romantically involved with, Marcus, is brought up several times. We even see a scene in which Kelati first messages Marcus on Grinder and Marcus asks him out for drinks to meet for the first time. But the script never follows up with what happened on the date, how involved the two boys became or what resulted from this relationship. One can assume from the therapist's questioning and Kelati's hinting that things didn't end well between the two; however, no resolution or explanation was given. The result of these and a few other unresolved plot points is a tension, conflict and intrigue created yet never explored or resolved. I reached the end of the play feeling no real sense of conclusion. This lack of conclusion is also partly due to the need for thematic closure. By the end of the show, I was unsure of what the lasting message of the show was or what I was to take away from the story. The personified inner troubles are never truly confronted or handled, and the show ends without resolution.
I admire how courageously, unflinchingly honest this show is. Kelati doesn't shy away from barring his inner workings, bravely making his problems a primary focus. With some further focus on the script and performance, this show could shine with authenticity.
"Between Me and Them"
Written and Performed by KiDané Kelati
The 15th United Solo Festival
September 25- November 19, 2023
410 West 42nd (btw 9th and 10th Avenue)
Carmen! is a trans-multimedia artist specializing in playwriting, acting and crochet. Originally from Jacksonville Beach, Florida, they are currently based in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, returning to their Atlantic Oceanic roots. Their play Taking the Plunge has been performed at the Tank and the Chain off-Broadway and in the 2023 Fresh Fruit Festival slated this June. Carmen has also worked in front-of-house and technical positions for prominent theater organizations including New Dramatists, Portland Playhouse, Emursive and Future Proof. Carmen’s mission is to use play to create meaningful representation by and for underrepresented communities. For more information on Carmen! Follow them on socials @carmenacetosociety or check out www.carmenburbridge.info