The Own-Way Faction
Darian Dauchan has one foot in the Hollywood Fringe Festival: he brought two performances of his one-man show Black Sheep, and there’s only one left before he’s done here. It’s tonight at 9:45 at the Complex; you can probably make it after your 8 o’clock show. It’s good enough that I am going to offer some patter for the barker Dauchan needs to hire, or portray, marching up and down Santa Monica Boulevard wearing a sandwich board tomorrow:
“Black outsider identity monologues! Get your black outsider identity monologues here! Straight out of New York City! Hot black outsider identity monologues for sale! In Los Angeles for one night only! Get ‘em before they’re gone!”
Of course identity monologues are never in short supply at any theater with a lab space. But Fringe is still a pretty white world, for some reason not attracting the entrepreneurial spirit of black actor/writers in numbers approaching their percentage of the performing population. And black alienation within the black community has become a hot topic lately – but, again, there’s very little of it at most fringes. And yet there are tons of white liberal theater people running around Hollywood this weekend, and I think most of them would love to tell their friends that they caught this smart, funny 70 minutes of black-on-black examination. They’ll also love that they actually liked the show.
Dauchan is a stage, television and film actor who has won awards for his spoken word stylings, hailing from the Nuyorican school of poetry-slam. In his rhymed introduction to Black Sheep, he raises the question of black perception, using “pig,” “faggot” and “Tom” as examples of of transgressive or contrarian self-determination. He’s a very adept logic-rhymer, and his delivery has the confidence of a pro without the beginner’s brash bravado. Still, my taste in political philosophy does not much run to poetic investigations. I don’t think it’s the most useful medium for the purpose, and pretty quickly I find even the best of it trite and trivializing of important issues. So I was glad when Black Sheep veered after a few minutes into illustrative character studies.
Dauchan portrays a veteran NYPD officer addressing a high school class about police relations with the black community; a young black Republican at dinner with his girlfriend; a token black punk rocker outraged that another black guy has shown up at the venue. There’s a rookie NYPD officer, too, trying to defuse a standoff; a black bride turning from her white groom at the altar to admonish the attendees on the meaning of love; a fierce, wise gay man on the A train, calling a young thug on his shit. There are many others. They’re all at the very least interesting, and most are funny and engaging on multiple levels.
These characters are helped immensely by the best use of video projection I’ve seen in a Fringe monologue this year. Onstage video generally feels like an imagination-free, untheatrical director’s cheat. But these urban street scenes and interiors by filmmaker Desha Dauchan are beautiful, moody, and serve double duty: accompanied by choice music cues, they provide a visually interesting transition while Dauchan changes clothes or dons a wig; they also meta-project the actor in audience consciousness, out of one reality and into another. It’s almost literal; it almost never works; I love it here.
Dauchan is a very good actor, convincing, immediate and arrestingly invested. But while some are nicely individualized, overall his characters could use some physical delineation – many of them speak with the same voice and cadence, and most have the same idiosyncrasies of mouth and chin expression.
Mostly the writing of these speeches and scenarios is strong, capturing character and principle in a few choice lines or gestures. His writing gifts are for pithy, instantly identifiable expressions and specificities. But about half these pieces could use development of theme or story or both; too many peter out, and an equal number are too short as too long. A few, while they have good moments, could be dropped entirely.
Director Nicole A. Watson keeps the stage picture lively and changed-up throughout, making use of the whole space with multi-purposed shapes and levels scattered around. Mostly she arranges Dauchan’s high-energy acting with similar good taste. Once or twice she seems to run into a wall – a piece in which a drag queen tells her origin story has one of the most compelling, well-crafted narratives in the show, but Watson lets Dauchan deliver it via one of his least delineated characters, almost entirely while seated behind a table. But while Black Sheep could lose ten or fifteen minutes and be the better for it, there’s an hour of kinetic, insightful, moving and hilarious show in these seventy-five minutes.
Black Sheep plays one more time:
Saturday June 13 at 9:45 p.m.
at the Flight Theatre upstairs at the Complex
6472 Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood
for tickets, visit http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/2153?tab=details