Aurora Theater. Credit: David Allen

Noted playwright Dael Orlandersmith’s filmed one-person creation, Stoop Stories, is now streaming via the Aurora Theatre through Oct. 2. It stars the arresting Jeunée Simon (The Bluest Eye) in a series of powerful vignettes that, taken together, capture a slice of the underbelly of New York City. Orlandersmith’s series of monologues, as acted by Jeunée Simon, convey the intimate stories told on stoops and sidewalks from Harlem to the East Village — one person at a time and each with an authentic tale to tell.

Dael Orlandersmith. Courtesy of the playwright

The unique personalities conceived by Dael Orlandersmith and effectively performed by Jeunée Simon include street denizens of all ages, from young girls to old men. The characters are of diverse ages, ethnicities, accents, physical affects and experiences. And Simon’s talent makes them believable and recognizable.

There’s the Polish Holocaust survivor and jazz fanatic. His rejection by his African American lover’s family haunts him. He then meets none other than the legendary singer Billy Holiday in a brief-but-bittersweet jazz club encounter.

Of the several young girls in Stoop Stories, the adolescent girl with her first period seemed the most authentic, as she sings out, “I’m 13 and bleeding.” Another girl, an optimist who loves the library, may be a young version of Orlandersmith. She says: “When I grow up, I’m going to have a house filled with books, filled with words.”  

Several of the personalities on the stoop are overtaken by drugs. A dealer named Hector tells us, “Drugs are good at first.” Cherry blames her drug habit on her former life as a rock ’n’ roller.  

One memorable lengthier vignette is about a Monday morning scene in a Village coffee shop. One group of businessmen and another of construction workers are stopped in their tracks by two young women who noisily chat about their sexual exploits. Suddenly, the power shifts and none of the men want to leave for work.

Jeunée Simon. Credit: Ben Krantz Studio

Obie Award winner and Pulitzer Prize finalist Orlandersmith has ably performed several of her own challenging one-person plays. In 2012, she starred in the world premiere of her searing effort, Black n Blue Boys / Broken Men at Berkeley Rep. She portrayed a handful of abused boys and the haunting effects the abuse has on the men they become.

I wish that the one-act Stoop Stories could have been seen on the Aurora stage. It’s so much harder to be enveloped by the performance when it’s viewed on a screen. And concentration is necessary to capture the poetic mood of this production. Of course, over the hour length of Stoop Stories, some vignettes are more successful than others, and some ran together in my mind afterward. But Elizabeth Carter’s excellent direction and Simon’s taut performance convince us that playwright Orlandersmith knows the essence of these stoop dwellers. Her talent for memorializing their stories is inspiring.

The filmed version of Stoop Stories will be streamed by the Aurora Theatre, Berkeley, through Oct. 3. Single tickets range from $25-$30, or subscriptions are $200-$385. For information, extended dates and tickets, visit the Aurora Theatre website or call 510-843-4822.

Emily S. Mendel reviews Berkeley’s vibrant theater scene for Berkeleyside. As a native New Yorker (although an East Bay resident for most of her life), Emily grew up loving and studying theater, from...