Lesbian experiences live onstage
by Richard Dodds
When an audience member is pulled onstage for some participatory bit, it usually involves good-natured laughs at the expense of the dragooned volunteer. It's unpredictable, but with a safety net. While the woman who found herself moved from her front-row seat to an onstage chair wasn't required to do much more than sit there in the opening scene of Walk Like a Man, the audience didn't seem so sure of that safety net when the participant found she was the object of a character's first lesbian experience. "I wanted to ignite her pussy until it smoked," said the actress as part of a flurry of sexual specifics designed to surprise and amuse both the audience and the volunteer. It worked, signaling to the audience that it could breathe easy in the erotically charged vignettes to come.
At least that was the case on the opening night of Theatre Rhino's production Walk Like a Man. All 10 of the pieces, adapted by Laurinda D. Brown from her book of short stories, specifically focus on African-American lesbian characters, but the mixed-race, mixed-gender audience seemed to react as one to most of the stories. Reflecting the narrated nature of the short stories from which they were adapted, many of the pieces employ a character who is alternately speaking to us and dramatically involved with other characters.
This technique can help pull us into stories by providing a first-hand observer, whether it is in a humorous tale of sexual insecurities or the anguished recollections of a victim of sexual abuse. The first act ends and the second act begins with the same character in both scenarios. Alexaendrai Bond is first seen as a frisky adolescent in typically girlish attire, whose seemingly benign tale turns dark as Bond stuns the audience with a fearless display of wrenching emotion. At the start of the second act, a couple of years later, Monique has transformed herself into Mo, so convincingly played by Bond that we can believe her co-workers' perceptions of her as a man. Then comes the comic turn as a workplace romance develops, and deception or revelation must be chosen.
These stories often end on contrived notes that can come too easily. But in the case of a scene titled Dom and Dommer, conflicts will continue after we leave the characters. Daile Mitchum and Desiree Rogers provide an inviting comic spin on two women who both perceive themselves to be the butch half of the pair. Who gets out of the car to pump the gas becomes one skirmish in a light-hearted look at role-playing.
Director John Fisher skillfully finds the right tones for the pieces, and the five very accomplished performers confidently move among the 20 diverse characters. In addition to the aforementioned actors, Kelli Crump is tragic and triumphant as a character dealing with unusual motherhood, and Nkechi takes us on a delightfully unexpected journey into the joys of cunnilingus. Tastes Like Chicken is the telling title of that piece.
Plays about gay men are in plentiful supply, but when a rare lesbian counterpart finds its way to our stages, the characters have often been grim and tortured. While Walk Like a Man has its share of serious moments, the playful mood is mostly in celebration of love and lust unleashed.
Walk Like a Man will run at ACT's Costume Shop through June 15. Tickets are $15-$30. Call (800) 838-3006 or go to www.therhino.org.