Theatre Reviews

Seek & Ye Shall Find

555945_10151623928838689_72024738_nWritten by Sentell Harper

Directed by Stephanie Stroud

At Apollo Theater Studio

A one-man show about the strength of many.

As recently as 2010, the famous Kenneth and Mamie Clark doll experiment was updated for a special on CNN. The researchers discovered results as disappointingly familiar as the tests from the 1940s—children both black and white showed a preference for the white figures in their view. If those young black children were revisited in 10 years and asked to select from a spectrum of figures from “gay” to “straight” (don’t ask me how that would play out visually, this is just a thought experiment) you can rest assured there’d be a pronounced preference for the straight figures, even among the teens and young adults with homosexual leanings. That such stigma still exists incenses writer and one-man dynamo Sentell Harper, who crafted this show in 2008. Seek and Ye Shall Find is his attempt to work through the…I don’t want to say “anger,” perhaps “indignation” is the right word…regarding not only how gay black men are treated in society but how they treat each other with seemingly even less regard. As his main character “Gussy” finds out on a dream-like visit to the land of Gay Black Men, nothing is simple but the commandment to be good to each other.

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On a typical evening returning disappointed yet again by a black gay men’s book club, the self-proclaimed outsider “Gussy” finds himself pulled from the usual Chicago metro stops to one not found on any map. Aided by his guide Willy, an elderly gay black man, he comes to the Common Grounds café. Here he’ll find his preconceptions of his own people challenged by a rigamarole of regulars representing a spectrum of homosexuals in the black community. There’s the supposed “Uncle Tom,” the flamboyant, the HIV positive, the married-guy-on-the-down-low, a bitter queen, and more. In flashbacks, he becomes mothers and fathers and grandmothers who influenced these characters. One hilarious segue harkens back to the doll test when he attempts to “return” his homosexuality to an unhelpful clerk—he’s fine with the ‘black’ and the ‘male’ but can’t take the ‘gay’ on top of it all. Imagining an alternate reality, he pictures a Cosby Show where Theo is gay and his parent’s accept him and rebuff an interloper’s attempt to stigmatize him. If only…

There’s a soft spot in my heart for one-man shows. The bravery it takes to get on stage is hard enough, and to do it alone must be incredibly daunting. Harper is a young man just a few years out of school, but under Stroud’s assured direction he creates distinctive characters with whiplash precision and only rarely dipping into stereotypes.  Seek has a few sophomore touches (i.e., some elements are a little hokey), but I can tell it’s been reworked a little since 2008 and probably will continue to be for as long as these stories need to be told.

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As I look around the media landscape in my memory and the impact that shows like Will & Grace, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and the many others that have come around since the late ‘90s, I realize the truth of one of Harper’s characters—a gay artist who paints a wholly white painting called ‘America’—when he says that’s the experience of being in this country. It’s all white even if you know that’s not the truth. In fact, only one positive portrayal of a black gay male character in media comes to mind, Keith Charles of Six Feet Under. Of course there have been many advancements in the last 5 years beyond fictional media, including Jason Collins coming out, that may have repercussions for the black gay community in the years to come. However I may be missing the larger point of Seek—regardless of whatever happens out there, to advance together a people must first work together, ending the squabbles over petty perceived differences to unite against very real ignorance and hate.


Reviewed by Clint May

Date Reviewed: May 7, 2013

At Apollo Theater Studio, 2540 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL, call  (773) 935-6100, tickets $15 general, $10 students and groups; Mondays and Wednesdays, 7:30 p.m., Saturdays, 3 p.m., Sundays, 7 p.m., Tuesday May 28, 7:30 p.m., running time is 90 minutes with 1 intermission, through June 8. 

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