Wig Out! is beautiful, raw, and real. And magically human, bonding me to the sadness, joy, and fear of wonderfully deep characters. To be candid, this is a world—the underground Ball Culture—I knew nothing of last week but remain moved by what I have seen and blown away by its energy, power, humor, and depth.
Late one night (or early one morning, depending on your view) Eric, the Red (Jaysen Wright) enters a subway train and ends up on a ride through love, sex, and a Ball, thanks to the leggy Ms. Nina (Michael Rinshawn). Also called Wilson, a fact she makes known after Eric says he likes men. Nina then casually trades her pumps for sneakers and slips off her wig, saying at some point, “You’re not this type of gay.”
It’s a bold, cheeky move and, apparently for Eric, a total turn-on.
Simultaneously, Nina’s “house”—the House of Light—is in a tizzy, having received notice that their rival—the House of Di’Abolique—will host a Cinderella Ball. That night. The Light has one day to prepare an epic performance for the underground LGBT subculture in which “houses” compete against each other in a drag-like runway show in categories such as body realness or most urban.
The houses call themselves families and have an appointed mother and father. These are chosen clans for the lost, lonely, and ostracized. For Wilson, who stumbled upon the steps one day to find an empathetic soul in Rey-Rey (Jamyl Dobson), the mother, and a welcoming embrace from the house father, Lucian (Michael Kevin Darnall), who remakes and renames the young man: Nina is born.
The House of Light is filled with heroes and heroines—Rey-Rey, Venus (Edwin Brown III), Venus’ old love Deity (Desmond Bing), and The Fates (Fay—Ysabel Jasa, Fate—Melissa Victor, and Faith—Dane Figueroa Edidi), a Greek-like chorus that sings, dances, and narrates. Di’Abolique, headed by Serena (Frank Britton) and featuring Loki (Alex Mills) who’s a contortionist, are competitive and cunning. They, after all, have known about the Ball for weeks, giving them an advantage that will be hard to surmount.
closes August 20, 2017
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Yet, it is Lucian—creepy, slimy, manipulative—who upends the House of Light, threatening to take Rey-Rey’s role as mother from her if she walks in the Ball, chastising Nina for not wearing her wig upon arrival at the house, and intimidating Deity and Eric to derail their relationships with Venus and Nina. Michael Kevin Darnall’s Cuban, controlling papi, rules like a king, taking what he wants, when he wants. And breaking promises along the way. From the moment he sways on to the stage, be wary.
The bright, beautiful, effervescent Venus counteracts all his nastiness. Brown draws you in with a magnetic performance. He is the heart of the Wig Out! just as Venus is the heart of the House of Light, putting on an amazing walk alongside Deity to Jay-Z’s “Hollywood” in a show stopping number (complete with freestanding fans used with great comic timing) during the Ball, which is most of Act II.
It’s high-energy, fun, flashy, with a hint of melancholy, and heart pounding, raising some in the audience to their feet. Every performer is a powerhouse—from Britton (whose Serena is the ultimate drama queen) and Mills to Dobson’s Rey-Rey and the Fates, who whip their bodies to frenzied choreography with precision and amazing control.
Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney—the 2017 Academy Award winner for Best Adapted Screenplay for Moonlight—writes dialogue that is like verbal gymnastics, yet his narrative thread never gets lost. He borrows from the greats and pours pop culture into nearly every conversation. I love it—shout-outs to Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games, The Huxtables, and Mean Girls. The use of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” Destiny’s Child’s “Lose My Breath,” and White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” are sublime. But, what McCraney does that is really spectacular, is infuse fun and funny with solemn tenderness and alarming discomfort. Like that pinch of salt in a sweet batter, each member of the House of Light drops their defenses—just for a few moments—and talks of life before, with their real families. Mothers and grandmothers, and sometimes fathers or friends, who wore wigs. And how it affected them. What it meant. Or didn’t mean.
“I wanna be just like you,” Venus recalls saying to her Grandmother, who accepted her grandchild just as she was, “when I grow up.”
Wig Out! is sexually charged and at times graphic (nudity and simulated sex on stage). It’s not for everyone, which is not a reflection of the quality of the production or its multi-layered, wonderfully woven, subtexts: love, gender, belonging, and identity. Identity when you are alone. When you are in a relationship. And when you are with your community.
A life not true to your self is not a life. And family, for better or worse (chosen as an adult or given at birth), is still family.
Director Kent Gash has brought to life a visually stunning show that will make you all sorts of uncomfortable, but bring you equal amounts of joy. And, possibly (hopefully) urge you towards a greater understanding of the many ways in which people love, and lose love.
Wig Out! by Tarell Alvin McCraney. Directed by Kent Gash. Featuring Michael Kevin Darnall, Jamyl Dobson, Michael Rishawn, Edwin Brown III, Desmond Bing, Ysabel Jasa, Melissa Victor, Dane Figueroa Edidi, Frank Britton, Alex Mills, and Jaysen Wright. Production: Dell Howlett, Choreographer; Jason Sherwood, Set Designer; Frank Labovitz, Costume Designer; Dawn Chiang, Lighting Designer; David Lamont Wilson, Sound Designer; Adrien-Alice Hansel, Dramaturg; Alan Filderman, New York Casting; Josh Escajeda, Production Manager; Ravenn “Rae” McDowell, Assistant Director; Mary Burgess, Zoe Jansen, Jack Riley, and Delaynie Rizer, Production Assistants; Jeffry Peavey and Kenaan Quander, Wardrobe Crew; Jessie Cole, Light Board Programmer/Operator; Jen Nichols, Sound Board Programmer/Operator; Marne Anderson, Assistant Stage Manager. Shayna O’Neill, Production Stage Manager. Produced by Studio Theatre . Reviewed by Kelly McCorkendale.