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Face Value

Reviewed by Jeanette Toomer

Presented by Reverie Productions at the Henry Street Settlement Experimental Theater, 466 Grand St., NYC, Aug. 17-27.

Kevin R. Free serves up a stinging and witty indictment of racial stereotypes in his one-man show, "Face Value." As the country singer Wes Youngman, Free has to assert his blackness constantly, in spite of queries and assumptions to the contrary.

Free also acts out all the different characters who answer the question posed by a low-budget tabloid TV show, "Is Wes Youngman really black?" From his white counterparts come doubt and confusion, like his high school music teacher ("he was one colossal colorful contradiction..."), and his teenage sweetheart, from whom there is pity for a black boy who thinks he is white.

Free also takes on distinct mannerisms for black friends and family who comment on his racial authenticity. These characters range through his militant brother, a hip-hop diva girlfriend, a musicologist, and his buppie agent.

When Youngman embarks on a singing and acting career in New York, things do not go much better. He finds himself auditioning for a black musical about Dr. King entitled "Freedom, Gonna Get Me Some," and judged by a white Broadway producer as not black enough.

Most of his characters are narrowly defined "types" that are lampooned for outrageous satirical effects. Their narratives are reflective of the limiting perceptions of racial identity prevalent in society.

After the tragic death of his parents, Free seriously reexamines his plight, and deserts Broadway for Nashville. Without a doubt, he can turn out a country western song, delivering perfectly on several tunes, with accompaniment provided by Dan Barnhill on guitar, harmonica, and vocals, and Ellen Cohen and Stephanie Kurtzuba also on background vocals.

Kathy Deitch directs with an eye for consistency between the slide pictures of the characters and Free's physicalization. Heather Finn is the quintessential voiceover narrator for the tabloid show.

Actors in costume photographed for the slides were Sedrick Rice, Kirk White, John Marino, Sandi Macali Smith, Jennifer Leigh Jones, Ruth Davenport, Tameka Morgan, Earl Griffin, and Geany Masai.

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