BWW Review: OUR LADY: Savior in Kinky Boots
Written and Performed by James Fluhr; Scenic Co-designers, Courtney Nelson and James Fluhr; Lighting Designer, Dan Alaimo; Costume Designer, Ameera Ali; Sound Designer & Engineer, Yi-Chun "Iggy" Hung; Projection Designer, Matthew Haber; Costume Construction, Chelsea Kerl and Jen Bennett; Stage Manager, Tareena D. Wimbish
Performances through April 27 as part of the Next Rep Black Box Festival at New Repertory Theatre, Black Box Theater at the Arsenal Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal Street, Watertown, MA; Box Office 617-923-8487 or www.newrep.org
In the final segment of his solo performance piece Our Lady, James Fluhr begins a transformation at a small makeup table. He skillfully applies powder, rouge, eyeliner, and glittery lipstick, and then mysteriously exits the stage. In a shining example of clothes making the man, he returns moments later in amazing regalia for a powerhouse floor show. It is ironic that prior to his makeover, although clad in t-shirt and jeans, he stands virtually naked, baring his innermost fears and dreams, to expose the real man.
Created as a response to hate and homophobia blamed for a spate of gay teen suicides, as well as to reveal the author's own coming out story, Our Lady is a moving, riveting mixed media theatrical event perfectly suited for the intimate black box space at the Arsenal Center for the Arts. As part of the Next Rep Black Box Festival at New Repertory Theatre, it achieves the goal of connecting audience and performer on a deeper level. To that end, Fluhr is out front before the show starts, making adjustments to the set and chatting with friends who have come to see his work. Once the curtain rises (figuratively speaking), he occasionally pops into an empty seat in the stands, invites audience participation, and regularly makes eye contact with individuals as if he is performing only for them.
Although it is a one-man show, Fluhr surrounds himself with an ensemble of characters he creates, as well as some of the real life suicide victims represented on video footage. By slight vocal modulation and gentle swaying of hips, he morphs with flair into Big Momma (his character's Southern mother) to share her side of the story, recounting incidents they endured throughout his upbringing. Despite the heartaches, the strong love she feels for him comes through loud and clear. At the opposite end of the spectrum, while not seen, the monster of hate is conjured by red lights and haze and a garbled, recorded voice spewing threats and invectives. The title character is larger-than-life, taking command of the stage and our attention as if she is a giant magnet and we are little metal filings sucked into her vortex.
Originally workshopped as part of the BU School of Theatre's New Play Initiative and a success at the 2012 New York International Fringe Festival, Our Lady is a major undertaking for Fluhr (Boston University CFA '11). In addition to everything else he does for the show, he is scenic co-designer with Courtney Nelson. Their vision includes sheets of plastic fashioned into ghost-like shapes, a ladder ascending to the rigging as a stand-in for a tree, and strategically-located chairs for the parade of alter egos. Lighting Designer Dan Alaimo, Projection Designer Matthew Haber, and Sound Designer/Engineer Yi-Chun "Iggy" Hung add layers to further stimulate the senses. The work of Costume Designer Ameera Ali and the costume construction team of Chelsea Kerl and Jen Bennett is eye-popping.
Written, performed, and presumably directed by (no director is credited) Fluhr leads me to wonder if the piece might be better served by an objective perspective and a little judicious editing. As poignant as the video tribute may be, the time spent on it dilutes his story which is incredibly powerful on its own. If it is his wish to champion those lost lives, he succeeds by bravely facing his fears and living his truth proudly. Fluhr is a talented, engaging young man and Our Lady is a compelling experience that will stay with you long after you leave the theater.
Photo credit: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures (James Fluhr)