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Pussy Whipped 

Wednesday, Dec 4 1996
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Banjy Pussy Raging
Written and performed by Idris Mignott. At Josie's Cabaret & Juice Joint, 3583 16th St., through Dec. 8. Call 861-7933.

The particular gift of solo performance -- besides the astonishing flexibility of the form -- is the specificity of the performer's point of view. Unlike more conventionally constructed plays, which are usually face-offs between several characters, successful solo pieces most often give a singular voice its full range of self-expression, even when that solo voice inhabits a variety of characters. Anne Galjour, for instance, whose colorful and varied Cajun characters seem to make their way to a harmonious unity. Or Anna Deveare Smith, whose work is based on dozens of interviews with actual people but whose performance style itself acts as a kind of glue. Or James Lescene, with his parade of mostly gay characters. All of the above create worlds most of us have little or no access to, and all deal to some degree with the marginalized and rarely heard. Now New York solo artist Idris Mignott adds his voice, and while he may yet soar into the stratosphere along with the above-mentioned, in this show's present incarnation (directed by Daisy von Scherler Mayer), he only manages to connect intermittently.

Which is a terrific shame. Mignott is an appealing African-American gay man whose characters are many: Yvonne, the stiletto-shod waitress with attitude; her upwardly mobile gay son; a precocious 9-year-old boy; a drag queen who claims to be Jackie Kennedy Onassis' illegitimate son; Sylvia, a Jewish divorcee who is also Yvonne's best friend. Mignott concludes as himself with a tribute to his old friend Val, a tough-talking lesbian who introduced him to the party scene before she died of AIDS some 10 years ago.

The show is a series of monologues in which -- the segment on Val excepted -- characters turn out to be related, whether by blood or friendship. Mignott uses this tried-and-true strategy with mixed results, failing for the most part to develop the various personalities he presents. The show's title -- "banjy" being slang for hip-hop or butch gay men of color, "pussy" being a clearly derogatory reference to effeminate gays, and "raging" a multi-use term that describes partying hard as well as venting anger and frustration -- suggests a far more vivid spectrum of characterizations than Mignott delivers.

Part of his problem on opening night was technical. He makes intriguing use of video, which he uses first to draw us in -- a hand-held camera observes him backstage donning his Yvonne wig and makeup -- and then to cover costume changes with prerecorded segments. But long pauses and obvious awkwardness with equipment killed off any incipient dramatic illusion.

A more serious glitch was Mignott's performance. It was clearly off, and he only managed to capture the audience in the last (wonderful) segment about Val. Perhaps he expected laughs he failed to get, response to Broadway in-jokes that don't particularly resonate in San Francisco. But that doesn't explain or excuse his difficulty with lines he himself wrote.

The show's true weakness lies with the material itself. Mignott has the basis for several memorable characters, but he over-explicates surface material -- like speaking patterns, which make themselves evident and need no hammering -- while failing to include essentials: We rarely get enough information up front to know a) who the speaker is, and b) why we should care. So many of the monologues are merely expository and repetitious rather than illuminating. These characters all seem motivated by some deeply held need, yet that need itself is neither revealed nor assuaged. So the writer's brilliant ideas, such as giving us a character who claims to be the illegitimate son of Jackie O., remain simply that: brilliant and sadly unrealized notions.

About The Author

Mari Coates

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