It is an unpromising start. The title is a slur describing comfortable suburban white boys who pretend to be black. It is based on a much worse slur, an expression which white bigots used when they discovered, to their astonishment, that not all whites were bigots.
And here we are, staring at the brick back wall of the Gearbox looking at a childhood picture of our very white host, James Anthony Zoccoli, in his comfortable suburban home. It appears that he wants to be a cowboy. DJ Gregor Mortis – also very white indeed – works stage left; we are hearing music about blacks and whites getting along, and it’s beginning to get…treacly.
But WIGGERLOVER is something incomparably greater than it appears to be: a sixty-minute love poem to one Orlandus Bell. In 1979, Zoccoli’s mother, divorced four years from his father, married Mr. Bell, a physical therapist in the hospital in which she worked. Thereafter, Mr. Bell – a smiling, bearded, mahogany-skinned man who in the seven-year-old Zoccoli’s eyes seemed to resemble the great Artis Gilmore, the Chicago Bulls’ gigantic center – like any good father, made Jimmy into a man.
Oddly for Chicago in the late seventies, race was not an issue for Mr. Bell, except for this: if he loved you, you were black. “Get your black ass in here,” he yells to young Jimmy when he sees him playing with a filthy dog – and he says it with such conviction that Zoccoli, thirty years later, turns around to check out the truth of the matter. Shortly after that, Jimmy starts calling Mr. Bell “dad”.
When a boy loves his dad, he often wants to be the same thing that his dad is. When I was a young boy, I wanted to be a scientist, like my dad, and I would have been one had I possessed the wits to do so. For the same perfectly good reason, young Jimmy wanted to be what his dad was: a black man.
by James Anthony Zoccoli
1021 7th Street NW 3rd Floor
Washington, DC, 20001
Details and tickets
Zoccoli tells his story with great energy, wit and verve, mixing his family story with amusing side tracks down history (why name the white race after the Caucasus Mountains? he reasons. Why not after the nearby Black Sea?) and embarrassing moments from his adolescence, when his enthusiastic embrace of his dad’s blackness made him temporarily forget about his actual skin color. (“I hate white people!” he once shouted in the middle of a classroom full of…white people.) He plays beautifully off his DJ, setting up a Letterman-Schaeffer sort of vibe which amplifies the comic quality of his message.
WIGGERLOVER, a family love story, performs the highest functions of theater: it tells the truth, it brings us to understanding, and it makes us laugh.
Eventually, of course, Zoccoli (now forty) grows into himself, and learns to be who he is: an actor, a monologist…
…and a black man.