Sunday, July 6, 2008
So on Thursday, I was called back by the VH1 People to shoot some more stuff for the show, and I found out that the location of the shoot was right by the theater where Passing Strange, a show I've literally been dying to see for months, was playing. I figured I could use the opportunity to try to get $25 tickets, and, lo and behold, they weren't sold out! (A note to all the broke people in NYC who still love theater, most shows sell rush tickets for around $25. It's still not cheap, but compared to the $110 that Broadway tickets usually go for, it's a steal. Try here for more info)
What more can I say about this play that hasn't already been said? It is a masterpiece, honest and true, and it speaks more to the middle-class black experience than any work of art I've ever seen. This show is about that entire gray area of the African-American experience in between poor folks and Huxtables, about a young man who is trying to figure out who he is and is having trouble connecting to the more bourgeois trappings of his middle-class lifestyle (writer Stew, who won a Tony Award for this show's book, takes a few pointed satirical jabs at the black church, in particular). On a whim, he decides to take a trip overseas, and the play is a chronicle of this journey, complete with new sexual and life experiences, and ultimately an appreciation of where he came from, narrated and guided by a future version of himself. Yeah, it all sounds like a bit much, but it is staged and performed brilliantly, and isn't hard to follow at all.
Personally, I am more than used to being the pepper spot in the crowd of mostly older, white theatergoers, and furthermore, used to seeing the middle-class white experience portrayed onstage (recently and most brilliantly in August: Osage County). I was thrilled, however, to finally be able to see a story that I identified with so intimately. This show is very current, very fresh, and very honest, and for once I felt like I was on the inside of what the writer was trying to say because I feel like I have lived so much of this story. Passing Strange is literally about "passing", whether it be the lead's grandmother who passed for white in the Jim Crow days, or the fact that I am able to "pass" as a straight man until I decide to make my sexuality known. It is also about the complicated emotions behind such passing, and the reasoning behind the attempts in the first place. There is a point in which the lead character becomes famous in Berlin for adopting the persona of a ghetto youth from the inner cities of America and passing it off in his music. His over the top performance is played for laughs, but there is some deep, uncomfortable truth to be found in this instance. What middle-class black person hasn't adopted a little 'hood speech from time to time to fit in against the accusations of "acting white"? Who must we be to survive in the real world and still maintain a sense of self? What is real and what is fake? When are you "passing", and when are you being yourself?
Aside from the intriguing questions that the show brings, there is always this exuberance I feel when I see black actors on a Broadway stage. Whether it's great (this show) or not-so-great (the recent Cat On a Hot Tin Roof revival), it is always great to see people like me in an art form where Blacks are so thoroughly underrepresented. From the looks of the audience, I would guess that Passing Strange isn't long for this world, but the fact that it exists is revolutionary. What is exciting about this play and others, like Thurgood and In The Heights, is that it seems like the Broadway paradigm is shifting to become more inclusive for its artists and theatergoers of color, and that there are more options for all of us. That, in and of itself, is almost enough to get me to pay $110 for a Broadway ticket. Almost :P
Passing Strange is playing at the Belasco Theatre at 111 West 44th St