Playwright and Performer: Jaime Black
At: Bailiwick Repertory, 1229 W. Belmont
Phone: 773-883-1090; $18
Runs through Aug. 1
Near the end of Living Inside Myself at Bailiwick Repertory, Jamie Black warns the squeamish in the audience to leave before things get graphic. There's a sense of trepidation in the audience, especially since Black is performing on the same stage where the guys of Naked Boys Singing show all multiple times each week.
But Black, a female-to-male transsexual, wisely foregoes any 'Full Monty' shenanigans. Black instead chooses to reveal things about his life via emotionally honest and comic routes.
Black's warning presages his nitty-gritty description of genitalia reshaping operations, right before launching into the original song 'Addadictomy.' This dual dose of unflinching tell-all detail with ironic comedy helps to make Living Inside Myself an entertaining and perspective-enhancing romp.
This is mainly due to Black, a disarmingly charming performer who has crafted a personal one-man show with director Rob Chambers. Black's Living Inside Myself wins people over with comic honey instead of angst-filled or angry vinegar ( a bit of this peeks out when Black plays up the irony over intolerance he received from people in the gay and lesbian community ) .
With an infectious smile and plenty of ironic asides, Black breezes through his life's story in an hour. Highlighting the many highs and lows of his journey from a she to a he, Black also answers many lingering questions or curious notions you might have about transsexuals.
Take for instance Black's liberation when he finally gets a 'boobectomy' ( his preferred phrase over mastectomy ) . After learning about Black's pain and suffering from binding his breasts since a teenager, it's a relief to hear how liberating the surgery makes him feel.
Black also delves into his childhood memories and thoughts. It's fun to hear how often Black remembers always being mistaken for a boy, and of his defiant acts of cutting off his braids ( which instantly incurs the wrath of his African American mother ) .
As compelling as Living Inside Myself is, there is a lingering feeling that Black could have delved a little deeper into some of the more dramatic moments in the show ( there is a hit-and-run feeling to Black's revelations of suicidal depression and a shocking bit of violence ) . Black also could inject more distinctive vocal and physical traits to differentiate the multitude of characters he portrays ranging from taunting classmates to a psychology book lectern.
Black may not have the quick-change chameleon skills of acting pros like Anna Deavere Smith or Tracey Ullman, but he ultimately gets the job done by simply being his complex self. Living Inside Myself is a great vehicle for Black to share his life's journey, and a very worthy addition to Bailiwick's 2004 Pride Series.