Saturday February 24th 2018

“It’s My Penis and I’ll Cry If I Want To” reviewed by Jeffrey Leibham

RECOMMENDED***  Jamie Black, who recently stated that he completely dislikes having to create the titles for his work, has come up with a doozy for his latest: “IT’S MY PENIS AND I’LL CRY IF I WANT TO,” which is playing at The Buena as part of the Pride Films and Plays. During the piece, Black even self-deprecatingly suggests that certain men may actually use the title as a battle cry. Black, who is a trans male, has performed this play at multiple Fringe Festivals throughout the United States and also enjoyed a very successful run at the Toronto Fringe Festival in the summer of 2017.  3 and 1/2 SPOTLIGHTS

Black does much more than just bare his soul during this very engaging evening of solo performance. Initially appearing in just a tank top T-shirt and boxers, Black is both physically exposed and emotionally vulnerable. Directly addressing the audience, he delivers a short biographical monologue in which he instantly connects with his audience through his natural charm and welcoming demeanor. Black’s cunningly sly smile and warm, expressive eyes are captivating and light up the entire stage. As a hard-as-nails drill sergeant instructing his young recruits on the basics of what it means to be a man, Black offers many humorous anecdotes on the pressure to learn all of the stats of professional athletes or the conquest of finding the perfect female mate. With the addition of a simple apron and feather duster (there are minimal costumes and just a few simple chairs and table make up the set design) we are transported back to the 1950’s. Think June Cleaver in all of her wholesome goodness. It is in this segment that Black seems to be having the most fun challenging gender and societal expectations. After all, a major reason why Jamie Black wrote and stars in this vehicle (besides it being a wonderfully entertaining and amusing play) was to abolish gender norms entirely.

The remainder of the play consists of numerous characters and the troubles and conflicts that they face in their daily lives. The brilliant format utilized here presents one specific instance or situation rendered by both a male and female perspective. We meet a young college frat guy who fears that he won’t hear back from a full-figured woman he just met playing a game of poker. Also, a couple whose marriage is in trouble because the wife mistakes her husband’s sensitivity for weakness and demands that he “should be a man” and have to work non-stop to help support her. Finally, we meet a wise older gentleman who is processing the news that he suffers from a terminal illness and is not afraid to die but afraid to leave his widow alone and fending for herself. All of these six characters, male and female, have plenty of input when it comes to how we present ourselves to each other based on our gender, and how we can do a better job of living truly happier lives once we are in touch with our authentic sense of self.

The old show business adage states that “You should always leave them wanting more” and that is the case here. While I would have liked to see at least one more male/female point and counterpoint (perhaps with some high school-aged students on a first date or a recently married couple who are expecting their first child) its brevity does not lessen the work nor does it feel incomplete in any fashion. Black is such a gifted story-teller that I just wanted to spend more time in his presence. You will too.

“IT’S MY PENIS AND I’LL CRY IF I WANT TO” runs through February 11th in the Buena, Pride Arts Center, 4147 N. Broadway, Chicago. Street parking is hard to find in this neighborhood.  The best option is a metered lot at Belle Plaine and Clarendon (about 2 ½ blocks from the Pride Center).  Running time is just about an hour, no intermission.  Performances are:

Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm

Sundays at 5:00 pm.

Tickets are $25.  FYI (800) 737-0984 or www.pridefilmsandplays.com.

To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “It’s My Penis and I ‘ll Cry If I Want To”

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