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The show runs through October 17th


STARRING CHERRY COLA PITTS and THE STORM IS HERE are two one acts Vincent Victoria Presents has sewn together to make one night of challenging entertainment. They both run under an hour, and move quickly through their dramatic scenarios. The first is a musical comedy variety show imagining an unapologetically queer black man having a hit show running just behind I LOVE LUCY in the ratings, while the second is a dramatization of the last day of the only civilian to lose her life during the Keep America Great insurrection on January 6th of 2021. At first glance it seems the two could not be intertwined, but director and writer Vincent Victoria never shies away from the seemingly impossible.

The first act of the evening features Vincent Victoria in a rare star turn in one of his own plays as Cherry Cola Pitts. The character first emerged from a fever dream sequence of his production company's first feature film BLAQUE TCHERIE. Victoria decided to develop a play around the character, and told his audience they would be in for a politically incorrect evening. Boy! When he makes a promise, you best listen. The show pulls no punches whether it is "in your face" gay humor or tearing up any veneer behind black tropes within the entertainment industry. Nobody escapes unscathed here, and the politically charged humor seems to jive right in with the era in which it has been written. In the '50s certainly Cherry Cola would be censored to oblivion, but here in the middle of Black Lives Matter and the rise of Lil' Nas X he seems relevant and on point.

Vincent has always had a certain style all his own, and it is no surprise he makes an engaging host of a black themed variety show. He holds the audience easily in his grasp, and makes them laugh and squirm all at once. He's a whirlwind of energy, and it comes off so good naturedly that by the time you read the underlying rage it is too late. He has you! He is an enigmatic figure the likes of the emcee in CABARET, and he takes on dangerous politics and alternative sexuality with the same vim and vigor of Joel Grey back in the late 60s.

There is an ensemble cast around him, composed of his company of players to support the show. They match his energy beat for beat, sing songs, and dance around Cherry Cola to punctuate each barb or joke. Erica Bolden, Terrie Donald, and Jacqueline Harrison have some of the best turns as "The Mammies" who are poking fun at the cliche of having black maids as supporting roles in television and film. Here, they get the spotlight! Maya Flowers, Venise Watson, Wykesha King, and Ansonia Jones are "The Cherries" and "The Sign Girls" who also bring sparkle and shine anytime they hit the center of the stage. Truly it's a Greek chorus of super charged talent supporting Cherry Cola Pitts, and the entire cast acquitted themselves well throughout. The play moves fast, always is on level ten, and fires away quickly through all of its commentary.

At the end of the Cherry Cola segment, the scene shifts abruptly to a rather plain bedroom with a huge American flag on the wall. The queer jokester stops in his tracks, and is suddenly standing in a place he no longer recognizes. He looks around lost for the first time of the evening. It is then we realize the show is about to shift into THE STORM IS HERE which depicts the last days of Ashli Babbitt at the pro Trump takeover of the capital less than a year ago.

Vincent Victoria has cast one of his most likeable actresses as the lead, Carrie Lee Sparks. She spouts the expected Trump beliefs and faith in Q Anon, but we can't help but admire her spunk no matter how misguided we know it will end up being. Mark Christian gets a tender first scene as her husband who strangely seems to try and reason with Ashli to stay and work on their struggling pool cleaning business. Then we see Ashli travel by plane, and have a run-in with a black Republican (Reyna Janelle and Ansonia Jones alternating). She finally ends up at the rally, and well... the inevitable happens.

What is most amazing about THE STORM IS HERE is it rarely judges Ashli, and lets her live in her own reality. Carrie Lee Sparks is the perfect actress to make us feel sympathy for anybody, and you just want to protect her even when she has a Trump rally flag draping behind her and she is climbing the Capital walls. The only thing the script misses is Ashli's military background and training which should have enlightened her actions on that fateful day. She also seems to be in a vacuum, and we never get a sense anyone supports her beliefs including her husband. I would wager a fair amount the real Ashli Babbit had strong support from family and friends around her. Here we are romanticizing her independent thought, when in truth it was a mob mentality that was fatal to her.

Both shows have an incredible energy about them, but one thing that stands out is the rapid pace never waivers and remains the same throughout the night. There is not a somber moment in STARRING CHERRY COLA PITTS, and there is no change from Ashli's outrage to "stop the steal!" in the second half. If there is one thing I would have liked to have seen is more variation in tone, but they certainly make up for it in sheer commitment to the themes and the material. Both shows are a challenge to the political climates of their times. We have a mythical pioneer inserted into 1955 television, and then a woman who championed the return to the morality of 1955 and died for it in the present. Maybe this is where they connect the best, both symbols of protest against the values of their present. It's a strange juxtaposition that somehow works, and makes this show a thought-provoking one that you won't easily shake after seeing it.

STARRING CHERRY COLA PITTS and THE STORM IS HERE run until October 17th at the Midtown Arts Center adjacent to the HCC campus. For tickets and information you can head to the website . COVID protocols include the audience wearing masks for the entire performance, and the theater has plenty of room to spread out if needed.

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From This Author Brett Cullum