BWW Review: THE DAY I BECAME BLACK at Soho Playhouse
Wake up! Bill Posley has a stunner of a story to tell, and although comedy may not resolve his existential crisis, it's a trip well worth taking with him at Soho Playhouse. Witty, fearless and "woke as f***," Posley describes (and often reenacts) parts of his lived experience as a biracial man in search of an identity. Feeling too black for white people and not black enough for black people, he regales us with anecdotes that, although amusing in their own right, are also the kind of antidote that our racially fractured country needs right now.
How do you help an integrated audience in an intimate theatrical space feel at ease? Posley's style: assure white people it's ok to laugh, then ask black people not to stare at them. Ironically (deliberately?) he doesn't specifically address any potentially biracial audience members.
To ease us into his culturally conflicted space, Posley shares the many micro-aggressions he endures, such as the intrusive and objectifying question he fields way too frequently. He asks, in an incredulous Valley Girl dialect, "Omigod, like, what ARE you?" Then he deadpans his response: "A Costco member."
Against the backdrop of having been born biracial into a Massachusetts family, and raised in a culture that demanded he identify as black or white but never both, Posley invites us to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. He first assumes the role of our "beginning black friend," but this initial duality soon manifests itself as a multi-generational multiplicity: with a slight change of posture and modification of his voice, he embodies his well-intentioned but metaphor-mangling black father, his fierce black grandmother (Grammy), and "Karen at Starbucks," a white privileged prima donna who unleashes a belittling barrage of complaints directed at Posley, her barista. Let's just say that his response to her was anything but basic.
By tempering rigorous self-awareness with self-deprecating humor, Posley crafts a poignant and potent narrative by planting one truth bomb after another. Then, when things get tense, he deftly diffuses each one within its sociocultural context, using the tools of his trades as comedian, improviser, actor, writer.
Posley asserts that "We all have blind spots when it comes to our morals" but struggles to follow a leader, i.e. who's holding the moral compass?
Disillusioned yet determined, he drops names ranging from Tiger Woods ("Caublaasian") and O.J. Simpson (a pivot point in biracial celebrity culture) to James Baldwin ("Being white means never having to think about it."). He riffs on Jeffersonian politics, slave-era white census property categories (slave quantity, age, gender, race), and his own genealogical research. Unabashedly, Posley shines the light on taboo topics such as fetishized racial stereotypes, pornography fashion trends, and cinematic cultural appropriation ("Really, Tom Cruise? The Last Samurai?")
With a style that tilts more toward heartfelt than hubris, Posley methodically builds a strong case for why we need to reframe how we presume (and consume) biracial identities. As a child, seeing "Mr. Reading Rainbow" (Levar Burton) get whipped as a slave (Kunta Kinte in the movie Roots) was traumatic; being stared at after a classmate used "the hard R" while reading the n-word in "To Kill A Mockingbird" taught him how being ostracized as the Other would be a lifelong problem.
Posley taps into our universal vulnerabilities by melding his own awkward moments (school picture day, basketball team bench warming) into a relatable-yet-personal narrative bolstered by video clips, South Park-caliber animation, testimonials, and pop cultural parody. Ultimately, he attempts to unpack what it's like being biracial by breaking it down for us, and, in a hilarious nostalgic Backstreet Boy moment, he even busts some moves and breakdances.
Unsurprisingly, living a life of code-switching--attempting to settle what he describes as an ongoing internal interracial debate--is exhausting. And yet Posley, not a victim but not yet victorious, persists. "There I am, in the middle" continuing to look for answers even as he raises more questions ("Do I need to flex to fit in?"). He closes his performance looking grateful but wrung out. It's apparent he gives "The Day I Became Black" his all, and it shows.
For tickets, visit: https://www.sohoplayhouse.com/the-day-i-became-black
Photo Credit: Daniel J. Sliwa Photography