There are many benefits to minimalism within the theater. A lack of pomp and complexity allows for the eyes to rest and let the ears put in the work to understand more than simply hear. We, the audience, are greeted with few details to latch onto and create assumptions, allowing ourselves to come as we are, instead of fighting the need to fit into the role that we feel meant to play. The simplicity of space creates a tabula rasa that we audience members are invited to paint upon, in collaboration with our tour guide performers.
This is how we are lead into Your Negro Tour Guide, the play most recently produced by APAC (Astoria Performing Arts Center), written by Kathy Y. Wilson and performed by the puckish Torie Wiggins.
After we are met by the sparse, black box stage we are familiar seeing—set only with a town square-style bench, a mammy statue adorned title card, and our own pre-existing assumptions—we are introduced to our lead and solo player, performed by Torie Wiggins. An upbeat rap song heralds her in, imitating the start of a stand-up special. We know exactly what we are in for… for now.
Torie Wiggins, as our titular tour guide, embraces her role with complete and utter understanding of her minimalist task. From the moment she steps upon the stage, Wiggins embodies the confidence and charisma that she knows she will need to share these thoughts with—a possibly antagonistic audience. It is clear that her perceived ease is derived from her intense work and reworking. Like the eluded to comedian in a stand-up special, her work has clearly been crafted and polished to near-perfection, and we in the audience cannot help but be drawn in, as if witnessing Michelangelo’s “David” or da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa.” Indeed, as Wiggins leaps in after her introduction to address the more vulnerable and touchy subjects of being a Black person in this country, the dread, discomfort, or hesitancy that many Americans would feel at the discussion of such charged topics is blissfully absent.
Wiggins first addressed a full definition of the n-word (utilizing the blunt-force of the slur with such veracity as to corral the audience into submission to understanding of what they are in for) and then moves onto an admission of both preferable traits and distasteful traits that have been stereotyped upon Black people. Through it all, she utilizes every tool in the actor’s toolbox to ensure that we will leave with having heard her peace. She holds herself with relaxed confidence, speaks with strength of tone and authenticity, is humorous in lampooning herself, her communities, and the audience, ensuring that no one takes anyone too seriously… nor without serious reflection.
The work itself fully supports such an effortlessly comedic and confident portrayal. Written by Kathy Y. Wilson, this biographical piece pulls no punches. Not only has Wilson written about the trials and tribulations of Blackness in our country (an all-too-oft discussed topic), but also speaks to the joy and even superiority of the Black experience in many ways. By utilizing a reoccurring compare-and-contrast bit, both the audience, and Wilson and Wiggins themselves present the vibrancy, unabashed strength, and pride of Black identity… and the space of femininity and queerness within that identity.
That, in this critic’s opinion, is the true greatness of this work and performance; Wilson and Wiggins speak to the wholeness of identity within our information-saturated society. In a time when intersectional advocacy meets gender identity meets race relations meets sexuality discussions meets the umbrella discussion of rights, Your Negro Tour Guide covers both the victimization and refusal of victim mentality of Black people, women, and queer people. In the approximately one hour runtime we are introduced to, and explore, the concepts of police violence, slavery, “talking Black,” Black female beauty standards, Black homophobia, Black History Month, Antebellum lesbian love stories, and the martyrdom of Black children and mothers. This powerful piece, full of beautiful hopelessness and colorful characters/caricatures, presents not a holistic view of Blackness, queerness, nor femininity in this American landscape, but an introspective on what it means to be more than one thing in the complexity of identity and justice in this mass jumble we call a country… all springing from the minimalist, blank slate of a familiar black box stage.
Thurs–Sat and Mon at 7:00pm | Sat at 3:00pm | Sun at 6:00pm
at Astoria Performing Arts Center
44-02 23rd Street, LIC