Review: ‘Babes in Ho-lland’ an electric world premiere

Sundiata Ayinde, left, as Ciara and Tierra Allen as Taryn are excellent in Shotgun Players' premiere of Deneen Reynolds-Knott's “Babes in Ho-lland.” (Courtesy Ben Krantz/Shotgun Players)

The first two minutes of Shotgun Players’ production of Deneen Reynolds-Knott’s “Babes in Ho-lland,” a world premiere that opened this month, set the stage for a high-wire, electric love story.  

It is a winter day in Pittsburgh, mid-1990s. Dorm-mates at a predominantly white college enter and dance in their room. First Ciara (Sundiata Ayinde) dances with full-out joy; then Kat (Ciera Eis) dances with equal abandon, both ebullient but with slightly different tone. 

Very quickly Ciara meets Taryn (Tierra Allen) and the two Black women start to fall for each other. The development of their relationship through music is moving—R&B is the language of love.  

There may be hints of trials to come in their future, but nothing can disturb the exploration of self and other. 
Director Leigh Rondon-Davis stages the show with pinpoint accuracy.   

Ciera Eis, left, and Sundiata Ayinde appear in “Babes in Ho-lland” at Ashby Stage in Berkeley. (Courtesy Ben Krantz/Shotgun Players)

Kat, who is white, tells Ciara about an off-and-on relationship with her boyfriend, grabs a coat and leaves. Taryn enters. When Kat returns and finds them embracing, she has a good-natured “whatever” response; she is disturbed about her love life and is perhaps, by observing what is going on in her shared bedroom, learning something about her failed relationship.  

World-wise Ciara and the more vulnerable Taryn are a perfect fit. 
The more than two-hour play could be cut a bit, but Reynolds-Knott’s fine sense of pitch, Ashley Mendez’s clever set and extraordinary acting keep it aloft. 
Shotgun Players’ “Babes in Ho-lland” continues through Feb. 10 at the Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley. Tickets are $10-$40 at

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