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THEATER

Claiming Identity Queer black dramatist’s musical on a queer black k dramatis dramatist

JOAN MARCUS

Larry Owens (center, front, in red jacket and cap) with James Jackson, Jr., John-Michael Lyles, Jason Veasey, Antwayn Hopper, John-Andrew Morrison, abd L. Morgan Lee in Michael R. Jackson’s “A Strange Loop,” directed by Stephen Brackett, at Playwrights Horizons through July 7.

BY DAVID KENNERLEY t the top of “A Strange Loop,” the brash, 25-yearyoung protagonist called Usher announces that the show will portray what it’s like to “travel the world in a fat black queer body” as he obsesses over the latest draft of his self-referential musical (titled “A Strange Loop”). “There will be butt-fucking,” he warns. Or is it a promise?

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Over the next hour and 45 minutes, the valiant Usher, who happens to work as an usher at “The Lion King” on Broadway dealing with white “asshole tourists,” takes us through the process, plagued by self-doubt, at times self-hatred. Under the direction of Stephen Brackett (“Be More Chill”), Usher’s interior dialogue is brilliantly realized by a chorus of “thoughts,” a spirited group of six black queer actors who articulate his hopes and

fears. One thought is called his “Daily Self-Loathing,” another is his “Financial Faggotry,” while another is “Supervisor of Sexual Ambivalence.” They all talk like Wendy Williams. These thoughts also take the form of his God-fearing folks back home in Detroit, who have no clue what it takes to get a play produced in New York. They beg him to write a “nice, clean, Tyler Perry-like gospel play.” What unfolds onstage

JOAN MARCUS

Antwayn Hopper and Larry Owens (front) in “A Strange Loop.”

certainly has elements of a gospel musical populated by zany, stereotypical Tyler Perry characters, but it’s anything but nice and clean. “A Strange Loop,” courtesy of Playwrights Horizons in association with Page 73, is sprung from the slightly demented, possibly genius mind of Michael R. Jackson, who wrote the book, music, and lyrics. It’s a safe bet that much of

➤ A STRANGE LOOP, continued on p.41

Making Your Connection Terrence McNally’s classic play about sex being the easy part BY CHRISTOPHER BYRNE ex is easy. Establishing — more accurately, negotiating — real, human connection can be treacherous. Finding a safe haven in the heart of another person in a cold world is the central narrative of Terrence McNally’s “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune.” Although the play is more than 30 years old, the timelessness of that

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theme is what makes the magnificent production now on Broadway heartbreakingly contemporary. When sex is easily available at a click or a swipe and engaged in with no strings attached, what used to be the consummation of a courtship is reduced to a physical and inherently unromantic and isolating commodity. “Frankie & Johnny” begins with sex. Noisy, enthusiastic sex that rocks the sofa bed in a down-at-

heels New York apartment. It’s the kind of first date romp where sex doesn’t mean much more than the release of pent up energy with another willing player. The pair met at the diner where they work. Frankie is an actress/ waitress and Johnny is the new short order cook. A movie date turned into an invitation to come in. Yet when intercourse ends in hilarity as Frankie tumbles to the floor and Johnny recounts a tale of an ill-timed fart

in a past, teenage tryst, they find they are actually with another real person. It’s a beautiful moment. What’s so moving about this production — certainly compared to others I’ve seen, including the 1987 original — is how fragile this Frankie and Johnny are as they negotiate getting to know each other. The dichotomy between the ease with which they jumped into

➤ FRANKIE AND JOHNNY, continued on p.43 June 20 - June 26, 2019 | GayCityNews.nyc

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