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Review: BLAQUE TCHERIE at Vincent Victoria Presents

A film project from Vincent Victoria with two more Houston screenings and then on to festivals.

Review: BLAQUE TCHERIE  at Vincent Victoria Presents

I suppose when a pandemic takes away live theater, the best thing to do is make a movie. It comes as no surprise the always innovative Vincent Victoria would take a shutdown and use it to his advantage. As a reviewer I have seen many productions from his company, and I always felt the shows had a quality that lent themselves well to the film medium. BLAQUE TCHERIE proves my instincts right as the first movie out from Vincent Victoria Presents. In all honesty it was filmmaker Lionell Hilliard who saw BLAQUE TCHERIE six years ago, and decided this would work well. I should take no credit, but the man is on to something.

The script had already been largely crafted before this project started thanks to the initial run on the stage. It is a fictionalized dramatization of the origins of Duke magazine, a short-lived publication based in Chicago from 1957. The purpose of the monthly was to create an upscale pin-up girl and lifestyle magazine for African American men much like Playboy had become four years earlier for white America. Rather than Playmates, Duke had a "Duchess of the month" that appeared in provocative attire but with no outright nudity. It was classier than its competitors, and by all rights should have done well. It folded after only six issues, and the mantle of "Black Playboy" would not be adopted again until Players magazine hit shelves in the early 1970s. BLAQUE TCHERIE imagines the world where two young men named Jackson Trades (Harold Jay Trotter) and Leroy August (Brandon Morgan) seek to validate and exalt the black feminine mystique through their own publication. The story is simple and straightforward chronicling the obstacles they overcome on their journey to get there and launch Blaque Tcherie.

The film was shot in only ten days in and around Midtown Houston standing in for Harlem in the 1950s. The play took place mainly indoors, and the film choses to do the same moving from interior to interior without too much taking place outside. Sets are decorated well (Nicholas Lewis), and the costuming (Daniel Brown) is spot on for the period. Vincent Victoria Presents proves to be resourceful in using their skills as a theatrical company for all of these aspects. Surprisingly the cinematography looks very nice and well composed, and Okay Iwundu works some magic with a small budget. There is a sense the camera comes in tightly to the actors to convey what a theater setting could not. We see every flicker of an eye or twitch of a mouth, and that serves the dramatic plot well.

If there is anything to fault this rough cut of the movie for it would be in the Sound Department. When ambient microphones are used for scenes the characters sound far off, and then when additional recording looped over the actors kicks in it is louder and not always synchronized with the words. Sometimes the score overpowers the dialogue, although it is always used in the right manner despite the volume. I was advised this was a rough cut, so hopefully some of the sound issues can be addressed.

The actors are great, and it shows that they have mostly all inhabited these roles before (most came from the stage cast if not previous productions). Harold Jay Trotter and Brandon Morgan carry the film, and they are endearing and earnest throughout. They have a nice chemistry together, and they both manage to make the transition from stage to screen look easy. There is a sequence where Eartha Kitt, Lena Horne, Dorothy Dandridge, and Pearl Bailey show up for a music rehearsal, and it is divine. The actresses including Pasha Angelle, Damonica Renee, Shavon Majoi, and Jasmine Renee Thomas are magic in recreating these iconic characters meeting all at once. Jacqueline Rudison Harrison appears in a brilliant turn as Moms Mabley in a dream sequence that also features Vincent Victoria as a wildly funny game show host. Jasmin Roland as Empress Lucy particularly captivates in her scene in a surprisingly emotionally rich madam. Tenise Farria is equally great in any scene she is in, sparkling and innocent while still giving the right seductive vibe the piece requires. The strength of BLAQUE TCHERIE as a film lies in the cast who know their stuff and deliver the goods at every turn.

Another issue is length and pace for a feature film. Plays are about dialogue, while movies are more concerned with action and moving quickly using visuals to flesh things out. Victoria could have relied on saying less and showing more as the run time is right at two hours which feels a tad long. There are scenes that could be trimmed more efficiently, and some sequences seem to meander without purpose other than to create a character beat. It would be wise to make another pass at editing for running time.

Yet on the whole BLAQUE TCHERIE makes for an impressive film debut for Vincent Victoria, and it looks like his empire may expand to new mediums. It's a funny film with a very sweet message about black women and how they should be perceived. Despite the lurid subject, the women are treated with respect and the actresses create some of the most memorable moments. Harold Jay Trotter and Brandon Morgan are great finds, and they can carry a film on their own. There is much to love here.

To keep up with screenings and festival plans for this film visit the company's web site at . There will be two additional screenings of the film at Midtown Arts Center on Sunday July 4th in the afternoon and early evening. Tickets are available on the company's site. After that, the film will make the rounds to festivals and other events.

From This Author - Brett Cullum

Brett Cullum has been part of the Houston and Memphis Theatre scenes for several decades now. He's been seen on community theatre and professional stages in several cities including Playhouse 1... (read more about this author)

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