Review by North R. Homeward
I have never been a fan of the word “penis,” especially in titles of things. It always feels like the word is there for shock value, to draw you into something that may further shock or offend you. That’s what I was expecting when I walked into the Buena theatre at the Pride Arts Center to see Jamie Black’s It’s My Penis and I’ll Cry if I Want To, something tactless that I wasn’t at all in the mood for. The title, however, was thankfully misleading; what I sat down to watch was a well-crafted 45 minutes of emotional reality, true perspective, and beautifully nuanced performance that made me wonder why it didn’t have a title more fitting its maturity.
The stage was set in simple fashion, a few folding chairs and a card table against a brown curtain, and we begin with Jamie in the simplest of costumes — his underwear. He talks us through his own experience with gender roles (through his transition from female to male) before embarking on the journey of characterization. His storytelling as himself is captivating, but it’s in Jamie’s character work that he truly shines. The first two characters we meet are caricatures of gender norms, hilariously listing all the musts and must-nots of Being a Man and Being a Woman, eliciting lots of knowing laughter from the (far smaller than this show deserves) crowd. Then Jamie moves on to weave tales of relationships from both sides, from college kids with differing relationships to their assigned gender roles to a problematic married couple struggling with toxic masculinity, and then finally an older husband and wife who have explored emotional honesty.
Transitions between the characters are accompanied by excellent musical selections (in fact, one of my first notes was “great music!”), though the quality of the sound itself bordered on painful — looks like you may need to get your speakers checked, Pride Arts! The blackouts between each character were a bit unnecessary though. As the stage went dark, I could see Jamie moving, still in character and continuing the last part of the previous scene, and I would have loved to just see that. The changes in lighting between characters are indicative enough of the switch — hell, Jamie’s amazing performance alone is indicative enough! Jamie embodies these vastly different characters, men and women of sweepingly different ages, so well that I can almost see them in their true forms, despite the fact that none of them have any difference in costume after the initial caricatures. His physical and vocal changes, large and very small, are impeccable.
The topics explored by each of these characters are various takes on how rigid gender roles affect us, and the differing perspectives felt very true to life. I was left wishing that he had explored different kinds of relationships besides heterosexual romantic ones — a pair of friends, perhaps, or a parent and child, but I thought it an especially rare treat that he took us through a situation where toxic masculinity was perpetuated by the woman in the relationship, which is an oft overlooked issue. I did feel like it was missing something, that the emotional end (which I won’t spoil) may have been better served with an epilogue of Jamie coming out to see us as himself again, some sort of bookending from the beginning, perhaps reframing a call to action more directly. As a trans man myself, I am deeply affected by these issues, and shining a light on them is appreciated (though I would have liked a bit more mention of nonbinary people than the teasing half a moment given), but awareness should always be followed by action. Perhaps an emotional end without revisiting us as himself was done with the intention of making us stop and think, but I found myself wanting that bookend. In the light of the whole, however, my desires for more were minimal things; this was a fantastic show.
There were five people in the audience tonight. Five. This is a crime, and I hope that Jamie can drum up some light for such a quality one-man show that touches beautifully on such complex and important issues. It’s My Penis and I’ll Cry if I Want To runs Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through February 11th at Pride Arts. Go see it. At less than an hour, it’s a special treat.