It’s My Penis and I’ll Cry If I Want To is a 45-minute one-man show exploring the nuances of gender, often humorously, always movingly and inextricably linked to the many characters portrayed by Jamie Black in this seasoned performance that has run for several years in the fringe circuit. Running at the Pride Arts Center through February 11, It’s My Penis and I’ll Cry If I Want To is a good way to melt away some of the grim realities of winter with a friend or two over a few introspective, gender-bending vignettes.
It is a real pleasure to watch Black seamlessly transition with ease between his male and female characters, magically embodying each person, each portrayed with sympathy and love for their quirks. Perhaps this gender fluidity Black expresses is only incidental to the plot, or perhaps it is a conscious choice to illustrate his point, that in emphasizing a gender binary, we have ripped apart the yin yang fabric of the universe. In only 45 minutes, we get to meet two college kids after a hook up, a married couple struggling with their roles, and an elderly dying man and his mourning widow.
We learn early on that Black is a trans man. In the first of several short scenes, Black outs himself by appearing in his underwear, feeling vulnerable, and confessing it. For a few minutes it appears as if the show will continue along these lines, as a series of confessional monologues about his paradoxical feeling of not being at home in a man’s world, or a woman’s. In perhaps unduly facile descriptions, Black explores how each stereotype limits his self-perception and makes him feel boxed in or as if he is not enough. Fortunately, Black quickly abandons the non-illusory monologue to explore his characters, and this is where Black is able to best make his point understood. The message is that foisting gender-specific behaviors and expectations on to a person is damaging to that person and their relationships. And also, women can be as badass and tough as men can be giving and soft. It’s not as if the message is revolutionary, but it is delivered with the spot-on renditions of relationship dynamics that ripple through the one-on-one connections he presents.
It is both unclear and possibly unimportant to know if Black’s skill at portraying his characters has something to do with his having experienced being both a female and a male in his lifetime, or more due to him being an excellent actor. Perhaps he wants that ambiguity to linger, just as he allows it to linger when he appears in his underwear and says he knows you are looking. Still, his powerful characterizations somehow bypass the opportunity to convey something specific about trans identity (and indeed intersectionality) independent of the binary male/female stereotypes. Black may have chosen this broader path in order to explore gender topics from a universal perspective, preferring to convey the pain of all human oexperience, not just trans hunans, when we enforce gender norms. In doing so, he will undoubtedly reach a wider audience, winning over more hearts with his repeated message that it’s okay for men to cry and show love. Sifting through power dynamics and various gender-flexible versus gender-rigid scenarios, Black is able to illustrate both how far we have come as a society on a case-by-case study of individuals and also how far we have yet to go—and most importantly just how personal that progress can be to each person’s happiness.
Shows are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm/Sundays at 5 pm in The Buena, Pride Arts Center at 4147 N. Broadway. Tickets are priced at $25. Or call to reserve your ticket 800-737-0984