Lots of Black folks are trying to reclaim the N-word. Musician Marc Anthony Thompson intends to do much more in his first play — reclaim Black history.
He and co-director Sean San José, the Magic Theatre in San Francisco’s artistic director, use that stage to jumpstart the revolutionary notion by inverting some racial stereotypes while taking a hard look in the rear mirror at plantation slavery.
Together, in a world premiere of The Ni¿¿er Lovers (alternately dubbed “a new Ameriikkkan musical”), they in only 90 minutes cleverly strip away almost all the facades of taken-for-granted, anti-Black racism within the White population.
Their weapons? Sketch comedy, slapstick, and laugh-out-loud set pieces that allow the five Black actors to ham it up as adroitly as any vaudeville, minstrel, or silent film stars of yesteryear might have done.
They’re aided by amusing costumes that range from a ringmaster-like female emcee’s tailcoat and glitzy shorts to a loincloth for a rotund, bare-chested Neanderthal type with a bone in his nose. And by wonderful lighting effects and booming sound waves that attack you from all sides as if wild beasts are in the wings.
…sketch comedy, slapstick, and laugh-out-loud set pieces…
The storyline focuses on a real couple who flee from a Georgia plantation in 1848 to freedom in Boston, with the light-skinned Black wife masquerading as a White boy and her husband pretending to be her servant.
Along the way, the audience is treated to a variety of vocal and background melodies and, more importantly, insightful looks at hateful sexualizing of young females, apparent contradictions within the Christian church, and the mythologizing of Black male genitalia.
All are footlighted with sharp injections of humor (some of it totally cerebral, some as lowbrow as could possibly be imagined).
Familiar lines bring grins — or grimaces — when used in unfamiliar ways. Like when one Black character says with mock sincerity, “There were some fine people on both sides.” Or when another Black man proclaims with earnestness, “Some of my best friends are Jews.”
Black wisdom occasionally is handed down unvarnished, succinctly illustrating the difference between races: “Do you think the White man thinks all day about being White?”
Violence is not overlooked, be it the rape of Black girls on the plantation or the vicious, unthinking slaying of White oppressors (though this voiced thought clearly cuts both ways: “You can’t kill them all.”)
Polemics and fire-and-brimstone speechifying are kept to a minimum while gags are injected to the max.
Gimmickry is also an ingredient — Blacks portraying Caucasians, for instance, carry “White” signs around their necks, not for actual identification but to heighten the satire.
To say the all-Black cast is outstanding is to both state the obvious and understate that reality.
Best of the best is AeJay Marquis Mitchell, who seems at many times to be channeling the masterful comic chops of the late Godfrey Cambridge. Right on his comic heels is Donald E. Lacy Jr., whose rubbery facial expressions can remind theatergoers of Woody Harrelson at the top of his game.
The other three performers aren’t slouches, either — Rotimi Agbabiaka, Tanika Baptiste, and Aidaa Peerzada.
Thompson — who’s described by San José, co-founder of the new-performance group Campo Santo, as “the rare creative who knows no bounds artistically, stylistically, politically, and emotionally” — was quoted in a press release as saying that “the current climate of gender fluidity, fascination with antebellum times, stagnant civil rights progress, and my tendency to lean into farce made this the time for me to corral my thoughts and humor into an evening of musical/theatre/visual infotainment.”
He succeeded on all levels, of course.
Thompson, known for creating the musical collective Chocolate Genius Inc., has also said that he felt compelled “to look at the future, or at least the now. My kids live in a different world, and in a different way. What identity is, what sexuality is, and…what Blackness is.”
He does that — while asking the question “How can we still love through all this?”
(Additional content from the Magic Theatre, below.)
ASR Senior Contributor Woody Weingarten has decades of experience writing arts and entertainment reviews and features. A member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, he is the author of three books, The Roving I; Grampy and His Fairyzona Playmates; and Rollercoaster: How a Man Can Survive His Partner’s Breast Cancer. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or https://woodyweingarten.com or http://www.vitalitypress.com/
From The Magic Theatre:
Check your (whyte) fragility at the door!
This show contains strong language (have you seen the title?) depictions of violence, rape, references to slavery, loud noises, singing, loud music, loud laughs, pregnancy, dildos, masturbation, gunshots, the use of every word you’re not supposed to say and more; all the things you see on TV everyday.
The Magic Theatre invites you to think before using the word in the title of the show, especially if you are of a whiter complexion. It’s a word that means different things to different people and can elicit feelings of trauma, anxiety, violence, and oppression, as well as camaraderie, identity and intimacy. Wait, which word are you thinking of?
By the way, no, the primarily non black staff at the Magic do not call the play by its full title.
Proof of full vaccination required for all in-person events.
|The Ni¿¿er Lovers
|Marc Anthony Thompson
|Marc Anthony Thompson & Sean San José
|Thru May 21st, 2023
|Magic Theatre Ft. Mason Center, Bldg D 2 Marina Blvd. San Francisco, CA.
|$30 – $70
|Max in each category is 5/5
|Aisle Seat Review PICK!