With unbridled energy and a finely written script, Cornelius Jones unfurls his life experiences as a black gay man, growing up in a time and place that didn’t always nurture his identity. The autobiographical Flagboy, which finished its run on the last day of the Capital Fringe Festival, is one man’s expression of life and love, and in Jones’ very capable hands, the solo piece is a delightful affirmation of life and authenticity.
The actor begins with his same-sex explorations as a child to full blown lust and love as a young adult, playing various characters along his journey – best friends, teachers, a sassy momma, a dim-witted brother, and even the occasional drag diva. Jones switches characters with remarkable ease, without losing the individuality expressed by each one, convincingly transforming a small blackbox stage into an intimate family living room, a marching band competition, a club, and even a graveyard.
His story – that of an open gay, black artist who contracts HIV in his early 20s, is a familiar one (especially given Washington’s staggering and heartbreaking HIV statistic in the African-American community), yet the story is still largely untold in public forums. In some ways, the plot develops exactly as you’d expect it to, yet the telling of it is so charming, committed, and powerful that the story feels like a beloved childhood fairytale that never gets tired in the retelling.
And in some ways, that could be part of the point. Gay men are all-too-familiar with the stops along the road to self-acceptance – facing down friends and family, overcoming deep shame, confronting common conceptions of God as being hateful and cruel, realizing that life is about more than other people’s perceptions, and connecting sex with the possibility of great physical risk in the form of HIV. As with all repeatedly told stories, there are lessons which continue to teach us how to live fully despite the bumps along the way.
Jones’ Flagboy does all of that – hooking into the creation of a new form of myth among gay black men, a kind of “Everyman” of the modern age and this community. The piece is not without its faults (an occasional tendency to be heavy-handed in the message sometimes mars truthful expression), but these are minor compared to the exuberance, honesty, and deep joy and love emanating from Jones and the flagboy he’s let out to play.
by Cornelius Jones Jr. and Matt Hoverman
Director Joshua Ian
Producing by FlagBoy Productions
Reviewed by Philip Fletcher