Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

Am I Black Enough Yet?
Tesseract Theater
Review by Richard T. Green


Erisha Tyus, Nathan Maul, Darrious Varner,
Anna Drehmer, and Sherard Curry

Photo by Brittanie Gunn
The new arts incubator .ZACK is scheduled to open this December in the Grand Center Arts District with an inaugural show by Tesseract Theater. But that troupe has already been gestating (I suppose you could call it) for the last three and a half years at the Regional Arts Commission (RAC), where it began with Am I Black Enough Yet? in March, 2012.

Now they're ending their run at RAC the way they came in, and Clinton Johnson's two hour, fifteen minute series of sketches and monologs is charming and bittersweet as ever, under the direction of Bre Love. I don't know what the next stage will yield for them at the very desirable new .ZACK venue, but their first location has been great for this small, inventive troupe, with shows like Mitzi's Abortion, Helvetica, A Lonesome Hollow, and An Initial Condition.

This show, about "fitting in" to both black and white America, is always winning, often funny, and two or three of the scenes are even enthralling. As you've undoubtedly heard, we had some well-founded protests here in St. Louis three years ago, and though all the characters on stage are arch and erudite, they are also painfully aware of the racial isolation they face, nationwide.

One enthralling scene sends actor Darrious Varner to Paris, as an NAACP emissary. There he tracks down an expat jazz musician, played by Sherard E. Curry, who politely declines an invitation to return to America for an awards ceremony. Mr. Curry, a young actor, easily adopts the manner of an elder statesman, and the layered explanation of his inability to make the journey is fascinating.

Another memorable scene involves the whole cast as masterminds of black slang—but that dissolves into mayhem when Latin slang becomes an issue, and the question of authorship of certain articles of black slang creates some very hard feelings. In any case, it's a huge relief to know where all those crazy new terms come from: a secret committee, meeting behind closed doors.

Erisha Tyus comes on to tell "Four Jokes That Were Told to Me," and we laugh casually at the first, and less so at the second, until we are mortified to think of her position by the fourth. Elsewhere, she adopts a great Nigerian accent to help break-up a fight between two black college students, one of whom has not properly "benefited" from the black experience in America.

Anna Drehmer and Nathan Maul are a lot of fun as two Wisconsin municipal officials caught in a bind when all the minorities in their town secede and incorporate their own separate government. And the eight rules of black culture we learn at the outset ("There are more of them than there are of you; the revolution is not coming; acknowledge other black people on the street; movies, TV and videos are projections not reflections," and so on) are enough to break open the hardest white-enamel frame of reference, as this show gets under way.

Through September 18, 2016, at the Regional Arts Commission, across from the Pageant Theatre. For more information visit www.tesseracttheatre.org.

The Players
Sherard E. Curry
Anna Drehmer
Nathan Maul
Erisha Tyus
Darrious Varner

Director: Bre Love
Stage Manager: Brittanie Gunn
Light Board Operator: Jackie Chambers
Sound Design: Taylor Gruenloh


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