While the subtitle, “Stories I can’t f*ckin’ hear no more,” hinted at aggression, this was a performance that came from a place of understanding, not anger.
When Dee Dee Batteast heard her black, homosexual students ask why they always had to play the same character, and if they were accepted not for their acting skills, but to fill a diversity quota—it was the same questions she had asked as a student a decade before.
Same university, same problem, same feeling of this can’t be right. In her smart and funny one-woman show, Dee Dee takes a crack at our preconceived notions.
Why no AIDS no maids? At first look, most would not draw a comparison between black women and homosexual men. Yet using the braiding technique of story telling, Batteast describes the surprising similarities between the way the “magical black” and “magical gay” are viewed on screen and treated in real life.
In speaking about both, she shows how easily anyone, including herself, can both be cast as the victim and play the offender in the game of perpetuating stereotypes.
She threads the entire story with a heavy dose of empathy. With the grace of a good teacher, she does not simply say, “this is why you’re bad.” Instead, she says, “this is why you can do better.”
Anyone looking to improve their skills as a rhetorician need look no farther than No AIDS No Maids.
Not only did Batteast build a good argument, she embodied it. She showed us that a black woman could be funny using wit rather than simply sass. And as she demonstrated personalities she had met throughout her life, she proved the range that she, a black actress, possessed.
She appealed to our sense of logic: through analogy, through “what if” questions, through ample examples, through anecdotes and common sense.
No AIDS No Maids: Stories I Can’t F*ckin’ Hear No More
Written and performed by Dee Dee Batteast
Details and tickets
She didn’t sacrifice entertainment value, either. As a whole, we in the audience seemed to lean forward in our seats, involuntarily shaking our heads at the truth she unfolded, and finding ourselves falling in love with the characters from her life we were now privy to meet, if only vicariously.
Her refrain, “laugh on me,” had a particularly lasting effect. Dee Dee would appear with smeared lipstick, made to look like a clown. To a campy-sounding melody, she sang lyrics that revealed something much darker: the purpose and effect of constantly putting out these gay and black tropes.
After the performance, Batteast refered to this recurring character as The Thing. It’s the same representation of marginalized groups we keep seeing—the friend, the helper, the sidekick, the clown. Her decision to use the image of a clown worked on multiple levels. For one, it allowed her to showcase a role we recognize without relying on caricatures of the same people she wanted to liberate from such stereotypes.
One another level, it possibly acts as an allusion to the role clowns typically play. Think about the fool in King Lear. He had sound advice and an interesting perspective, but the king would hear no word of it. To Lear, the fool could not be anything other than a clown. Once compartmentalized, overlap is not permissible.
The small space of Tree House Lounge should have presented a challenge. The stage itself was not even the length of the bar situated in the back of the room. To make matters worse, it was pushed up against the wall to the right of it; on the left was the staircase, and a wall of what I would have considered unusable space.
But not Batteast She used that wall as a canvas, casting on it scenes from movies and television shows the audience had to have recognized: Sex and the City, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmitt, True Blood, The Help.
After seeing this thought-provoking and inspiring performance, you will not likely look at those shows —or the world—in the same way again.
Is this the last we’ll hear of Dee Dee Batteast ? I sure hope not.