On paper, Josh Wilder’s Leftovers sounds like a radical magical realism romp. Directed by Sydney Chatman, the show focuses on a Black family whose streak of bad luck and empty promises is interrupted by an enormous dandelion that breaks through the nearby concrete. Siblings Jalil and Kwamaine reach up to catch the weed’s falling spores; they make wishes on the breezy little seeds. Jalil, the younger brother, asks for a “Cosby Show-happy” family, opening the story’s exploration of Bill Cosby’s career and his impact on Black domesticity. The comedian eventually becomes a fantastical character in the show—and soon the brothers are forced to grapple with Bill Cosby the Rapist.
Planting this story in such a surreal landscape was a smart move on Wilder’s part: it creates more space for contradiction and fluidity, which I imagine you would need if you decided to take on the racialized nuances of the Cosby scandal. I also want to note the kick-ass technical work: this is a fully realized set with killer light design accomplished on a shoestring budget.
However, in creating such loose parameters for its themes, Wilder’s play lacks a sense of moral direction and loses the development of its main narrative. The show’s mission is clear: Chatman’s directorial notes offer a powerful critique of Bill Cosby and his hypocrisy, the ways he maligned Blackness throughout his career while promoting a sense of impossible security. While this clarity does occasionally glimmer through, the show ultimately takes on more than it can handle and never really comes to a viable conclusion. v