Black Male Revisited: Revenge of the New Negro, continuing this weekend at the Miami Theater Center in Miami Shores, is unapologetically raw -- and for good reason. The one-man show created and performed by Jaamil Olawale Kosoko reveals the warped, over-sexualized and emotional complexities of African-American men throughout the ages.
In one of the show's highly poignant climaxes, Kosoko is bare chested, stripped down to his black booty shorts which are branded with "Black Power," and slowly proceeds to go to bed with a hooded sweat suit sprawled in a crime-scene position -- "a la Trayvon Martin."
For Black Male Revisited, the MTC's Sandbox studio is converted into a visual exhibition. Charcoal black walls are inscribed with verses from cultural historians. There's a picture collage of dozens of crying black male icons. The back wall is dubbed the "wall of tears," consisting of long golden strips. Horse head masks, a recurring symbol throughout the show, are stationed atop another display featuring stacks of literature mainly on the black experience. A video of Kosoko's dance performance titled "Expectation of Violence" is projected on one wall for the duration of the show. Overall, the mixed element props are a lot to consume at first, but making them cohesive is where Kosoko illustrates his genius.
The show commences casually. The audience is ushered into the intimate theater and given a guided tour of each visual display by Kosoko's quirky, 1960s inspired alter-ego Jeremiah St. Germaine Deboreu Worhol. Amid the wall hangings are several portraits of Kosoko in traditional African kinte cloth. Shedding light on his West African heritage, he calls them Nigerian Boy, but that identity doesn't seem to have much relevance within the show. Among the floor props, there are an American flag and bag of Skittles candy.
After the tour, Kosoko disappears into the theater's bathroom where he changes in clear view. His male thong and exposed hind parts are just as much a part of the play as anything else. But this is about as sexually explicit as the show, gets in terms of nudity.
Suddenly things get serious and "the stage" is set for Kosoko's teaching moment. The room darkens; an eerie, suspenseful tune oozes from the deejay's computer. Kosoko then emerges straight-faced in all black with a hood over his head and swinging a light on a rope, his face now dusted with gold glitter. He captures the audience's full attention and empathy as he illuminates each of the exhibition pieces with the roving light, giving extra attention to Trayvon's memorial. The flowing wall of tears gleams. Actors in the muted video seem to be acting out a violent, grief-stricken episode, which is a fitting backdrop to Kosoko's daunting abyss that's developing. He strides over to the altar of literature and intimately kisses a wigged horse mask. He's deranged but that's precisely the point.
Transitioning into his second alter ego, J-Love, Kosoko begins singing one of several original songs that are sprinkled throughout the rest of the play. His soulful, well-timed vocals draw us deeper into the black man's despair. From here on, Kosoko takes us on a sequence of small, emotionally charged acts that begin with thugged-out and end with insane. Ruminating on society's obsession with black male genitalia dating back to slavery, he screams "black sexualized cannibalism," which is fiercely echoed throughout the room.
Within a short span, he spirals into a fit of delirium where he lights a torch to a male doll's exposed derriere, and undresses down to his "Black Power" booty shorts, among other wild, but well-timed antics. Kosoko's prowess in creating suspense and surprise gives his audience no alternative but to be fully engrossed in the impactful social messages he conveys. And thankfully, there was hardly a predictable moment in Black Male Revisited.
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Black Male Revisited, part of the Sandbox Series, takes place at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, with a matinee on Sunday at 3 p.m.; Miami Theater Center, 9806 NE Second Ave., Miami Shores. Tickets cost $20. Call 305-751-9550 or visit mtcmiami.org.
--Kai T. Hill, artburstmiami.com
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