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Border/Clash: A Litany of Desires

Presented by Ira Pittelman and Allan Buchman at the Culture Project, 45 Bleecker St., NYC. Opened June 16 for an open run.

As we learned when we saw her in Broadway's "Def Poetry Jam" three seasons ago, Staceyann Chin is expert at a saucy political rant, but in this autobiographical solo turn she makes an almost perfect transition from spoken-word artist to actor. She seems to know that the current bar for one-person shows is high, so she carefully balances those passages devoted to the narrative of her unlikely early life with those that throw verbal brickbats and pyrotechnics at the political and social innocuousness of our age.

Divided into clinically labeled sections and subsections ("3.6: Some of the Things I Believe," "4.5: Revolution and Tumult"), Chin first recounts her ancestry—unknown Chinese father, narcissistic Jamaican mother—then adolescent awakenings in her mother's homeland. Acutely sensitive to feelings of parental abandonment, of being female in a male-dominated culture, and finally of being gay, her self-examination is crisp and clear. Her brilliantly written and performed description of her attempted rape in college is cauterizing and, for many, I suspect, the most selfless part of the piece.

Her momentum flags midway through. One reason is that when her life takes a positive turn—moving to New York, discovering her slam skills at the Nuyorican Poets Café, making a living on the spoken-word circuit, opening on Broadway—the dramatic tension is resolved.

Or is it? Chin, in the piece's final section—deftly assisted by director Ron Urbinati—comes into her cocksure, feminist own: making peace with her childhood and demolishing, verbally and emotionally, those homophobic college-age boys who tried raping her into heterosexuality. Moving from monologue to the darkly funny freestyle poetry with which she so memorably lit up "Jam," now she takes aim at all the injustices she sees in her new American life, from castigating politicians for using "terror to buy votes" to excoriating the media. "Be careful what you dream of," she warns. "You just might awaken to find it true."

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