“MOVIN’ MOVIN’ MOVIN’ KEEP IT MOVIN’!”
There is so much to say about this production! A lot of what I experienced centered around the black LGBT community. I acknowledge that most will not understand those issues. Shout out to Teresa Wood for slaying these images.
It has taken me a moment to process all of the excellence, but I would first like to say I appreciate Studio Theater for crossing cultural and institutional barriers. Thanks for giving us something with a bit color…a rainbow if you will. In addition, I appreciated the research and recognition of local movers and shakers in the DC Ballroom scene. Everyone deserves a reflection of themselves.
Black Queer Men are the driving force of popular culture. The pungent lingo, mannerisms, and beauty standards people like to shower themselves in, while still being homophobic, are all created in these spaces. Here’s a few just for the gag.
Coin, Slay, Read, Read Down, Across the Board, Yassss, Beat, Fierce, Come Through, Snatched, Yes Gawd, Pump, Press, Honey, Chile, Sis, Dawta, For the Gods, Give Me Life, SHADE, Tea, What’s the Tea, What’s the Beat, Get Into This, The Gag, Ole Nasty, etc…
I must mention the set first because it was a very valuable asset to the experience. Immediately when the doors open to the black box space you’re either right at home or intrigued and pulsing for more. Set Designer Jason Sherwood did an INCREDIBLE job. It was one of the most detailed sets I have ever seen. Everything in the set was functional, meaningful, and purposeful like a museum of house life…even the ceiling. The elevators were a unique and captivating choice. The air was thick and steamy. I was comforted in the vibe and energy Sherwood and Lighting Designer Dawn Chiang created that meets you at the door and sits in your lap for a proper lap dance!
There were no visible mishaps or delays that we noticed from the audience and that’s impressive because the production had so many moving parts that bled into each other.
The lighting choices on the monologues were unique and dream like. I love how each transition faded into just an intimate spotlight of just the face.
The costumes, though they were fun and creative, confused me a bit. They seemed dated for this to be a current day production. Everybody looked like they came straight out of 80’s NYC…on a super tight budget . Drag is typically unconventional so I praise that portion if it was the intention. By the Cinderella Ball, everyone was beat and serving.
WRITING & DIRECTION
Tarell Alvin McCarney, writer of Academy Award Winning Moonlight and Choir Boy, is telling the stories that have taken rest in the core of the human condition and birthing them into the light, The House of Light. There is a global healing that occurs when we all learn to understand each other more. A number of key issues are tackled in the script. McCarney has shattered that glass ceiling with truth and humbleness.From a family perspective, often queer men cling to their Grandmothers or the matriarchs of their family when everyone else turns their back. McCarney showcases this in a series of beautiful monologues that use the wig as a metaphor of security. Kent Gash follows up with this metaphor in his direction.
The African American Gay Ballroom/House scene is a complicated underground world for anyone unassuming. The lifestyle is becoming more mainstream as pioneers, like RuPaul, have made drag queens household names. Balls, walking, choreography, voguing, sex, shade, love, and many other adjectives tend to create the foundation of a house. If you ever wondered where all of the abandoned black queer boys and girls go, here it is. I will not go into the logistics of a house. I’m not qualified to do so. Just know there is a mother (typically a legendary drag queen, fem queen, non-gender conforming, or transexual), a father (typically “trade”…ask your gay friends about that one I ain’t got time), and the children (those in need of security, family, purpose, and sometimes a place to live and BE).
Kent Gash was definitely in tune with McCarney’s intentions and desires. The first was the stigma surrounding masculinity and femininity in the black gay community wrapped in a beautiful budding love story turned tragedy between Ms.Nina/Wilson (Michael Rishawn) and Eric, the Red (Jaysen Wright).
“You’re not that kind of gay.”
The two were captivating because they showcased vulnerability, discovery, and fear in a way that was relatable and heartfelt. I love when a director owns MOMENTS. McCarney and Gash force us to take a look into our own insecurities and stigmas throughout the production and ask ourselves WHY we feel the way we feel.
Kent is EDGY! The entire performance was a risk (nudity and stimulated sex). I expected some people to leave because of the vulgarity of some scenes. It is like watching film on stage and to that I say, it’s about damn time! The monologues in this piece were so special. Black Men don’t often get to talk about what they are feeling on the inside in productions. Usually we are talking about how life has happened TO us.
Kent Gash apparently paid attention to details. Productions like this can be very hard for directors and often fall short since the subject matter is not a widespread known topic. McCarney and Gash do not leave you feeling left out.
Now let’s get into this black box performance realness dawta! (yes…I’m about to pack this review with all the lingo I can possibly muster up)
The poet in me got all of his deep dark life in this show from all the metaphors. The Fates literally rush you right into the mix of the story with an ole’ nasty vogue and chant. Gash’s direction here was superb! Every production needs The Fates narrating package! Put a price on it!
Fay (Ysabel Jasa), Fate (Melissa Victor), and Faith (Dane Figueroa Edidi) worked for each moment. They were the driving machine of the production with their a capella songs and harmonies, lip syncs, movement, and chile that dance number to Destiny’s Child’s ‘Lose My Breath’ was one for the Gods! Ysabel‘s presence was enticing. She seemed to show up when things were transitioning. Apparently Mama has attended a few balls herself, or at least did intense studying. Melissa gave us DIVINE energy with her facials, her body, and her dancing. To Melissa I say TEN’S ACROSS THE BOARD honey! I stared at her throughout the show. Dane…girl, you betta! Dane came to let all the kids know that she can do ALL THINGS, and I mean all things…no seriously, she gave triple threat realness and had incredible tits while doing it. Their cohesiveness was like insurance; if you were wrecked at any moment, they had you covered. I need more of The Fates in my life.
Soon after we meet Rey-Rey (Jamyl Dobson) and The House of Light. We are alerted that there is a Cinderella Ball in 24hrs that the house must win! This scene gave me LIFE. You would have thought we were sitting in a library with all the reads flying from one end of the stage to another from The House of Light and Loki (Alex Mills).Rey-Rey was so maternal and graceful. Jamyl, as a performer, transcends his appearance. I commend the entire cast on the softness they bring to the characters, though these men gave BOOOOODY, hear?
At the top of The House of Light you had Lucian (Michael Kevin Darnall), the father of the house. Lucian was intoxicating and very seductive; however, he is everything wrong with toxic masculinity. Darnall makes you cling to his every word not because of the sexy dialect, but because the purpose he put behind each sentence. He was one of those villains you love to hate. He did a great job of staying away from cliché mannerisms pertaining to that character type. In his monologue, he really shows his stamina, phrasing, and diction as he pounds another man on the floor.
Michael Rishawn was sculpted by God on the seventh day! As muscular as he is, he found a way to be poised and dainty and it consumed him. He wore Nina’s story in his body. You could see each emotional recall course through her. I love when an actor showcases his (her in this case) backstory. Pair this with the hefty Jaysen Wright, and you have a match made in heaven. Jaysen is just beautiful. His caution and attention to small details keep you captivated and often siding with him. Vulnerability is hard to live in for long periods of time. Jaysen did this with grace.
Venus (Edwin Brown III) OWNS the space. I mean, it’s hard to miss a 7ft tall girl chile! I have seen Edwin in a number of productions and his range is unending. Venus was intriguing and a breath of fresh air, or Beyoncé fans, in the midst of the brewing tragedy. Venus’s monologue featuring The Fates was my favorite. Edwin has a way of painting the picture with his voice as if he’s singing to you.
The reconciliation between Venus and Deity (Desmond Bing) felt real. Deity brought a balance to the production. He was effortless “the man” for all the right reasons outside of his struggle with feeling emasculated by the potential of his sexual relationship with Venus.
I cannot end this review without mentioning The House of Di’Abolique. Serena (Frank Britton) and her minion Loki know how to put on a show! I thoroughly enjoyed her lip syncs! Somebody give this girl her innocence back!
Alex Mills is so talented. He kept things very interesting every time he entered the stage. You could say he was the court jester.
Wig Out is worth it. We are rich in stories in the black community, but we are not rich in understanding. A lot of us, though we are in the arts, will not consider seeing this production. However, like Nina Simone said, we must reflect the times. There are so many facets of life out there that we need to explore in order to understand each other and build each other. Because like I said, any story of oppression or outsiders (women, queer, poverty, etc.) is just as important as slavery.
Wig Out brought it black and snatched our wigs in the process.