Last Night and the Night Before, by Donnetta Lavinia Grays, is a story about one family’s struggle to find truth. Split between present and flashbacks in two different locations, the story follows Samantha, her mother Monique, her Father Reggie, Aunt Rachel, and Aunt Nadima, and their actions when faced with certain secrets. Throughout this story, each character is tested on the strength of their love for one another, and how far they are willing to go to protect each other, as well as themselves.
The play begins in Brooklyn, New York outside of a Brownstone. The traditional, rectangular shape of the brownstone, the curves suggesting bay windows, and the iconic New York City stoop provide familiar markers for audience members as they identify the realistic world within the apartment. The apartment tenants, Rachel and Nadima, are up and coming in their respective careers – not yet fully established but certainly climbing the ladder of success. This liminal space is reflected in minimalist furniture and sparse interior decorations. Despite the minimal dressings, the interior design of the brownstone is driven by cultural accents seen in the set dressing.
The brownstone’s realistic aspects are a direct contrast to the ethereal nature of the flashbacks in Vixten, Georgia. Vixten is represented abstractly through the roots and red clay that anchor the brownstone in the space with neutral colors, tangled lines, and dense textures. The roots provide a certain ambiguity to the flashbacks and represent the idea that no matter how far these characters run from the events that took place in Georgia, they can’t escape. Georgia is always there as a constant reminder of Monique’s drug abuse, the hand games Samantha played with Reggie, and the shooting of the man that caused the sudden uproot of everyone’s life.
Brooklyn’s world and Georgia’s world are purposely woven together to show their co-existence. Everything that happened in Georgia affects what happens in Brooklyn. Having the roots creep up into the brownstone helps illustrate Georgia’s presence and ease the transitions from present to past, as if the flashbacks were actually happening within the brownstone. The roots demonstrate that there is no escape from the past if you don’t face it, and even once you do, it is only when you make peace with it that you can better your future, like Monique does at the end of the story when she chooses to leave everything she knows behind in search of finding herself.
Last Night and the Night Before is a story about family, it’s a story about looking at your roots, however rotted they may be, and deciding to make a change for a better life. It’s about knowing when to sacrifice the ones we love to better ourselves, and when to hold them with a tenacious and lovingly unending grip. By grounding the main storyline in a realistic brownstone and contrasting it with the symbolically dense roots beneath it, this design mimics the complex and utterly beautiful lives, stories, and relationships of the characters in the play.