Black & blue,
20 years later
by Richard Dodds
With a title like Fierce Love, you might think there will be roars emitting from the stage. While time may have mellowed some of the material in the Post Afro Homos' Fierce Love, the message never had a ferocious bite. Originally subtitled Stories from Black Gay Life, its agenda of outreach was basically, "Hey, we're queer and we're here, too."
Original Pomo Afro Homos Brian Freeman, Djola Branner and Eric Gupton have said their first target audiences were people much like themselves: black, gay, and feeling isolated from the gay white community, yet not seeing a black gay community for the communal exchanges most of us take for granted. In 1991, early audiences for their show were black and gay, but word spread into other demographics that the show was a rewarding mixture of fun, satire, bittersweet memories, and sorrows that need not necessarily be codified. The Pomo Afro Homos traveled far and wide before disbanding in 1995.
The vignettes that make up Fierce Love often have the feel of one-on-one storytelling, maybe about this black guy who wants everyone to know that he keeps his gay business on the side, or that black guy heading into the backroom of a mostly white gay bar for the first time and reporting on reactions encountered. There are comic moments, albeit with subtle commentary, as when the uber-stereotypical movie-critic queens (Duane F. Boutte and Thandiwe Thomas DeShazor) from the TV series In Living Color are confronted by a militant gay black activist protesting their "snap-happy sissy" stereotypes. Or when the drag queens Peaches, Popcorn, and Pepper note that they are on the outside of a society already on the outside.
The most poignant moments come in the monologues that the troupe's original members created from experiences in their own lives. Brian Freeman gets to recreate Sad Young Man, which takes its title from a Johnny Mathis song that the adolescent Freeman thinks is speaking directly to him. Freeman came from a family that imagined itself as the very model of a modern Negro family, in which he did not quite fit in. His dream: to run away with Johnny Mathis to some paradise not quite understood.
Rashad Prigden struts his stuff to a White Snake song while conceding the group may be racist, sexist, and probably homophobic. But he doesn't want to be boxed in, and rejects the peer pressure to put a "No on 8" sticker on the back of his jacket. "It'd make me feel like my parents' Volvo," he complains.
The Prop 8 reference is one of the examples where cultural references have been updated for this "remix" of the original Fierce Love, and while Mary J. Blige, Queen Latifah, and Usain Bolt are referenced, the time frame is meant to remain in the early 1990s, when AIDS was churning out funerals that excluded the deceased's actual friends, as related in a passage movingly presented by DeShazor. One update that doesn't work as well as it should is a homo-hop rap song that suffers because the muddy amplification doesn't let us make sense of many of the all-important words.
But under Freeman's direction, Fierce Love moves along at a genial pace that reflects the material. More than 20 years have passed since its first production, but the show possesses an inviting humanistic aura that may well be timeless.
Fierce Love (remix) will run through Oct. 28 at New Conservatory Theatre Center. Tickets are $25-$45. Call 861-8972 or go to www.nctcsf.org.