Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Where to be Merry: Am I Black Enough Yet? @ The Hollywood Fringe Festival

I had no idea what to expect. I had never been to the ComedySportz Los Angeles Theater on Seward Street, which sits on the edge of a quiet, residential neighborhood. I had never even heard about the 2nd Annul Hollywood Fringe Festival, and I certainly didn’t know any of the actors in the play I was about to watch.

But what I did know was that the play’s title had instantaneously jumped out from an email I had read a couple of days ago and held my attention hostage. The title insisted that I find the answer to the question it proposed, so this past lazy afternoon of a Sunday, I obediently complied and went to the opening performance for Am I Black Enough Yet? (A.I.B.E.Y.?).

In A.I.B.E.Y.?, five talented actors explore the complexities of being black; being black in America and while abroad…as an African-American and as a member of various countries in the African Diaspora. Through nine eloquent scenes that take us from the Parisian dressing room of an expatriate jazz player, to a modern 3rd grade classroom and everywhere in between, A.I.B.E.Y.? brings to life the challenges, idiosyncrasies and ironies of what happens when the world views you as “black,” no matter the era, no matter the location, no matter if you identify yourself as black or not.

I appreciate the play because throughout its 85-minute run, it always holds your interests, always keeps you on the edge your seat. You're laughing, yes, but also reflecting on deeply rooted stereotypes and cultural assumptions. You chuckle, you cringe, you vigorously shake your head and you stare in disbelief at the stage. You might even uncomfortably shift in your seat (I know I did).

To be able to connect with such a range of raw emotions in such a short amount of time truly reflects the ingenuity of the playwright Clinton A. Johnston and also of the cast.

Speaking of the cast, the actors (pictured below to the left*) are brilliant. Each and every one of them impressively expresses the depth of his or her acting capabilities. Nika Williams pulls off a mean Nigerian accent just as easily as she slips into a buttery French accent. J. Patrick Wise sophisticatedly portrays an urbane college student, while later easing effortlessly into the role of a jaded expatriate. I could go on and on, but my point is that everyone commits to his and her different characters very well.

But please don’t think you’re going to passively watch them do all the work! From the opening of the first scene when the cast magically turns audience members into “black people,” you participate in this ensemble as well. You’ll converse with your neighbor, answer questions and maybe even find yourself asking: are you black enough yet?

In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb as that I think if we’re honest, most of us have at some point in time asked ourselves: “Am I (pretty/athletic/smart/ethnic/rich/skinny/thick/awesome/any other preferred adjective) Enough Yet?” If we’ve fallen into any socially constructed category – whether we’ve wanted to or not – we’ve had to deal with figuring out our place in that category. So while the focus is on “being black,” the themes in this play are quite certainly universally relatable.

So if are you in the mood to check out a great play and to support the local performing arts, then I highly recommend getting tickets to “A.I.B.E.Y.?” But you better hurry – there are only three more performances: tonight, Wednesday, 6/22 at 7pm; Saturday, 6/25 at 5pm; and Sunday, 6/26 at 5pm.

See you at the next show!

Miss Wilson’s Tips
- A patio all the way in the back is a great place to hang before the show. There’s a shop with cute t-shirts, other knick-knacks and sweet snacks (pictured to the left).
- Hurry! You only have thr
ee more chances to see the play: tonight, Wednesday 6/22 @ 7pm; 6/25 @ 5pm; 6/26 @ 5pm.
- “A.I.B.E.Y.?” is part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival, which runs until next Sunday, June 26th. Other one-person shows, dramas, comedies and other performances from the emerging arts scene will be available for your viewing pleasure. Here's the festival's

More information:
Held at the ComedySportz Theater

733 Seward Street

Los Angeles, CA 90038

*photo courtesy Tulani Watkins

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