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Le Blanc

A gay African-American drag performer’s saga from poverty to fame as a dancer and choreographer is unevenly chronicled is this well-presented production.

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Breezy Leigh, Qwalee Summers and Stephanie Uttro in a scene from Qwalee Summers’ “Le Blanc” (Photo credit: Keith Pressman)

Darryl Reilly

Darryl Reilly, Critic

A multiracial and mixed gender company majestically voguing is the exuberant opening sequence of playwright Qwalee Summers’ Le Blanc. This dense epic chronicles the saga of the fictional Wellington “Isyss” Le Blanc, an African-American gay drag performer in his 20’s from foster care in California to life in New York City that includes drug dealing, Ball culture, romance and ultimately success as a choreographer and dancer. He’s appeared on The Today Show and been interviewed by Diane Sawyer, Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres.

The stage is bare except for some chairs and a rehearsal hall mirror.

That first number takes place at The Flamingo in Las Vegas and Wellington arrives to put everyone through their paces before that evening’s show. We then switch to him being interviewed as he tells the story of his eventful life. Le Blanc runs two hours and twenty minutes with a five-minute pause and by the time it ends it’s been a wearying experience.

Mr. Summers’ noble ambition to depict an alternative view of gay life other than that of the white upper-middle-class is waylaid by shaky dramaturgy. The structure is a ramshackle though often finely-written series of scenes that authentically capture life on the streets of New York City with emotion and humor.

Those who’ve seen the 1991 documentary Paris Is Burning and the current television series Pose will be familiar with the encapsulation of Ball culture represented here. It’s a world of minority gay and trans people living together in apartments named “House Of…”  presided over by a mother figure. Central to this existence is competing at balls in various performance categories for trophies.

Qwalee Summers, Breezy Leigh, Ian Coulter-Buford, Samantha Randolph, Kalen Garnett, Ninny Keisha and Lucille “Frak” Graciano in a scene from Qwalee Summers’ “Le Blanc” (Photo credit: Keith Pressman)

A central concern of the play is detailing Wellington’s five love interests: a white guy he meets at a hilarious Brooklyn vegan party, an Indian young man, an 18-year-old Muslim food cart vendor, his older married agent and the drug dealer he’s known since his California days. Well into the show there’s a rapid bit where each of them enter as Wellington imparts factoids about them and it’s a neat theatrical device that swiftly informs us of the pertinent details. However, previously we’ve spent a lot of time repetitiously going back and forth between these figures.  This thread’s deficiency is compounded by the play’s incessant non-linear structure as we get the same basic information over and over in a different order.

Mr. Summers pungent dialogue ameliorates his overloaded conception to a degree. The issue of AIDS gets an extended treatment at a clinic where Wellington espouses contrary views about its existence. It’s one of several scenes that sidetrack the actual plot to make variably worthy sociological statements. The bleak twist revealed at the finale is out of a 1940’s Warner Brothers crime drama but its redemptive impact is diminished by the meandering that has come before it.

As Harvey Fierstein played the leading role in his Torch Song Trilogy, Summers also portrays Wellington. It’s an entrancing performance that holds attention as Summers dances, finger snaps and erupts with joy and sorrow. Wearing various wigs and flamboyant costumes, he is fiercely commanding.

Antino Crowley-Kamenwati, Jeremy Rafal, Onkar Singh Dhindsa, Josie Bustamante and Terrence McCleveland all make an impact as the men in Wellington’s life with their strong characterizations. During the opening, the suited-up Mr. McCleveland with his tall and athletic physique and placid manner resembles one of the dancers from Madonna’s “Vogue” video adding a sly touch.

Terrence McCleveland and Qwalee Summers in a scene from Qwalee Summers’ “Le Blanc” (Photo credit: Keith Pressman)

The engagingly feisty LisaRoxanne Walters is hard-edged as the interviewer and touching as a tragic figure from Wellington’s early life. Breezy Leigh, Ian Coulter Buford, Samantha Randolph, Lucile “Frak” Graciano, Kenyon L. O’Brien, Nick Dorvil, Ninny Keisha, Stephanie Uttro and Kalen Rae Garnett comprise the rest of the ensemble who vigorously dance and portray a variety of characters with charm and enthusiasm.

The staging by co-directors Ms. Walters and Summers is quite accomplished as the dialogue scenes have momentum and visual interest. Summers’ energetic choreography makes the periodic dance numbers exhilarating.

Jen Sommer creates a charged dimension of multi-colored hues, ominous darkness, explosive brightness and crashing blackouts with her kinetic lighting design. The accompanying soundtrack of evocative pop songs and effects are perfectly realized by sound designer Kassy Rivera.

Le Blanc was a selection for the Negro Ensemble Company’s Emerging Playwright Festival and has had developmental incarnations at The Muse and BRIC Arts both in Brooklyn and La MaMa. This full production could be viewed as another step in its completion.  Its beginning and ending are powerful but what’s in between is problematic.

Le Blanc (through August 6, 2018)

House of Le Blanc

The PIT Loft, 154 West 29th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-244-1722 or visit http://www.houseofleblanc.com

Running time: two hours and 20 minutes including one intermission

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Darryl Reilly
About Darryl Reilly (571 Articles)
A native New Yorker, Darryl Reilly graduated from NYU with a BFA in Cinema Studies. For the Broadway League, (formerly The League of American Theatres and Producers) he developed, and for five years conducted their Broadway Open House Tours, which took visitors through The Theatre District and into several Broadway theaters. He contributed to Broadway Musicals Show by Show: Sixth Edition (Applause Books). Since 2013, he has reviewed theater, cabaret, and concerts for Theaterscene.net.

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