November 9, 2014

Tourists of the world: Stay home. Few are the books, movies or plays in which vacations end well. Embarking on another cautionary holiday, Nikkole Salter’s Carnaval at the National Black Theater sends three men to Rio de Janeiro. If it weren’t for the flash-forward opening scene, you’d doubt they ever made it home. Comic and tragic by turns, the play is a brash, profane and somewhat contemptuous exploration of black masculinity and friendship. On the anniversary of a friend’s death, the smoothie Raheem (Gabriel Lawrence) invites the uptight Demetrius (Bjorn DuPaty) and the puppyish Jalani (W. Tre’ Davis) for a week of rum, sun and ladies of easy virtue. (Very easy. The men seem to meet only prostitutes.) Before the sex tourism begins, the veteran traveler Raheem counsels, “You all exotic ’cause you American,” but if you mess up, “see how quick you just black again.” Sure enough, the men find themselves in the kind of trouble that even a round of caipirinhas can’t fix. Ms. Salter, best known as one of the writers and stars of the Obie-winning two-hander In the Continuum, has a shrewd sense of the kinds of roles that actors will enjoy. Each man gets meaty speeches, comic sequences and sundry opportunities to hit emotional high notes, maybe a few too many. If she sometimes takes shortcuts in plotting and relies on stereotype, she creates lively situations and conversations. The actors, under the direction of Awoye Timpo, clearly think so. They even seem to enjoy the “yo mama” jokes, which are admittedly pretty good.