Mother's Day and Riffs on Race, Love, and War: The Musical

by Jesse Geguzis · August 18, 2014

I didn’t know anything about Mother’s Day upon my arrival at the theater. I can't lie to you, I haven't loved FringeNYC, in the past. So I had a lot of feelings about going back this year to review some shows. That did me a great disservice ultimately.

As a queer identified person I found myself immediately judging the honesty and the authenticity of the story- and I did have my doubts at first. But I tried as the night went on, to concentrate on being open to receiving the story they were telling instead of the story I wanted them to be telling- which I realized- was my own.

While I found parts of the show to be problematic, most notably some offensive language, there was a wonderful part there in the middle when I found myself lost in laughter without my consent. Then I remembered why I go to theater and why I make theater and just how exactly theater changes lives-and by extension- the world. Colin Drucker took on a monster of a subject matter in writing this story. Drag queens can be taboo after all. To make it an even braver choice, I have to call attention to how the entire vocabulary around queer issues is changing right now. While the change is revolutionary, it also has created a fear of mis-stepping or misspeaking, of causing offense to the evolution of queer vocabulary that a lot of people are shying away from talking about it at all. Drucker not only talks about it, he screams about it.

He has written a very strong willed protagonist, given name Joey Pollack/ stage name Helen Black (Karl Gregory), who comes home for Mother’s Day in full drag, only to set their nuclear family world on fire. The story doesn’t lack twists and turns, however well disguised or not. The large audience left at the end of the nearly 2-hour show, filing out of the space in something close to silence, no doubt wondering how to feel about the play’s final moment. I know I was.

I saw Riffs on Race, Love, and War: The Musical the following night. It was drastically different. It featured the playwright Karen D. Taylor at a music stand center stage, in front of a bare stage and an upstage curtain that would be used for projections. Taylor had help from a live band and four, how should I say, backup singer/actors. It’s a biopic piece on her Caribbean/African American background that takes us through the American Civil Rights movement.

There were a few random but beautifully powerful songs performed by the
ensemble, in between Taylor delivering her plot-driven poems. Although I found the performance to be rather one note, it did not lack energy. The audience was very engaged and were dancing and singing at curtain call. I think I was the only person there who wasn’t riveted throughout the piece.

That brings up an important note. I was very aware of being the only white person in the space that night, which probably affected the show that I saw. When one feels “othered” it can affect their experience tremendously. Being on the outside of the racial divide was as uncomfortable as it was refreshing to me. It got me thinking more about my experience the previous night and how uncomfortable it might be for cisgender straight folks to see queer theatre. Or for anyone that is learning new information from the show. I believe theatre can be a valuable educational tool, at any age. We have to allow ourselves a learning curve.





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