“Being white means never having to think about it” is a James Baldwin quote that is projected during the presentation and is at The Day I Became Black’s core. A personal, historical and vivid exploration of race relations in the United States is the goal here. Unfortunately, it goes off on tangents.
“Hey, how’s everyone doing?” begins Posley following a video compilation including interviews with biracial people shown on a raised television set which gets a lot of use. His opening remarks signify the distracting comedy club tone as do periodic references to “the show.” There’s basic standup jokes, exaggerated character voices, engaging the audience directly and simulated game show bits where he roams through the auditorium. The piece’s dramatic achievements are diluted by the tiresome diversions. Posley appears to aspire to emulate the depth of John Leguizamo’s acclaimed solo shows but veers off into superficial shtick.
“I got kicked out of my gospel choir for being tone deaf.” The jokes are often well-crafted, wonderfully tossed off and there’s a humorous sequence about trying to behave like a black porn star. However, the conventional funny business doesn’t fully connect to the serious tale Posley is ultimately telling. The show’s title comes from a harrowing incident that is suspensefully reenacted and showcases Posley’s dramatic talents.
The Day I Became Black is performed downstairs at the Soho Playhouse’s bar that is crammed with seats. The stage is extremely small and so the environment really is that of a comedy club; Polsey skillfully adlibbed when a patron’s phone rang. Sober portions such as a montage of black people getting shot by police contrasts starkly with the prevalent jokey atmosphere.
Director Bente Engelstoft positions Posley with as much verisimilitude as possible leading to a smooth presentation accompanied by adept technical elements. The lighting, sound and video design all achieve a low-tech theatricality.
Bill Posley has a winning presence, a charming delivery and is an accomplished storyteller. These attributes enrich the misconceived The Day I Became Black.
The Day I Became Black (through May 6, 2019)
SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-691-1555 or visit http://www.sohoplayhouse.com
Running time: 80 minutes with no intermission