Black Virgins Are Not for Hipsters
Reviewed by Steven Leigh Morris
The Marsh (San Francisco)
Through October 29
The Marsh, in San Francisco, is the Bay Area’s answer to Son of Semele’s Solo Creation Festival in L.A. The San Francisco venue, however, is a year-round breeding ground of solo performances.
Echo Brown’s Black Virgins Are Not for Hipsters was supposed to run through August, and has been extended through October, understandably so given the blend of Brown’s infectiously bubbly personality with her sometimes satirical, sometimes melodramatic insights into gender and racial politics.
She performs her autobiographical tale, which she developed with David Ford, on an almost bare stage, focusing on her love affair with a white hipster from Portland, Oregon, whom she selected to end her virginity. He’s differentiated from other hipsters by his lack of income. This, in Brown’s assessment, makes him more accessible, more human. Still, her impersonation of him renders him something of a goofbag, albeit an endearing one. Their romance becomes all the more intriguing by the mix of his fascination with her, and his paralyzing shyness.
She’s certainly no shrinking violet, however, with a broad, toothy smile and guttural laugh, and the ability, during her show, to invite the audience to rise from their seats and perform dance moves corresponding to imagined partners, from the typical white-guy’s two-step — drift to the left, drift to the right (that’s all they know) — leading all the way up (or down) to erotic moves by Beyonce – which Brown performs while trying to contain her own laughter.
Among her performance’s many virtues is her ability to infuse whatever responsiveness is coming from the crowd into her own performance – a kind of call-and-response using energy – an approach doubtless encouraged by her director, Scott Plate.
Her other gift, evidently, partly born of experience as an investigator of NYPD police abuses (she tells one sardonic tale from that realm), is her expression of race relations that split and splinter stereotypes, which is where interracial dating always starts, she reflects. But relationships evolve from open-hearted curiosity, which is the antithesis of prejudice – the comprehension that people really are more than the sum of their most visible parts.
Her own fear of connection stems from incidents of molestation which, however harrowing and candid and honest, walks her saga along the standard turf of autobiographical solo performances.
That’s not enough, however, to burst the effervescent bubbles of joy and satire that float up from the stage and linger after she’s left the room.
The Marsh, 1062 Valencia St., San Francisco; Thurs., 8 p.m. & Sat., 8 p.m.; through Oct. 29. (415) 282-3055, http://themarsh.org