Living a Queer Aesthetic Way of life, but is it a Fantastic Play?
Ms. Joan Jett Blakk is the drag persona of performer Terence Smith, who was America's first drag queen presidential candidate. It was 1992 in Chicago where she announced her bid to run for President of the United States. The AIDS crisis was at its highest, and Joan, one of the founders of a new Chicago chapter of a political action group called Queer Nation had an urgent message, Joan Jett Blakk has decided to get involved in politics.
This political decision set off an adrenaline-charged queer nation, out of the closet, drag queer politics movement that generated national attention. Blakk's goal was to bring awareness to AIDS, acceptance to others choose to love who they want, and have a place where all could have a seat at the table in making decisions within America.
Inspired but not necessarily bordered by actual events, Author, Director and ensemble members Tina Landau with acclaimed playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney tell the story of 'M.S. BLAKK FOR PRESIDENT.' A deep-rooted tale in Chicago that takes us into the heart and mind of one of Chicago's most singular and radical citizens; where it is part campaign rally, part nightclub performance, part confessional—and all party!
Let's get this campaign rally started, and you better not be late for this over the top extravagant event with the fantastic lobby display and pre-show performances, at Steppenwolf Theatre. The minute you step off of the elevators to the upstairs theatre, magical love is in the air where individuals who once were shamed and kept in the dark for decades are celebrating this grand adventure.
'Ms. Blakk for President' is in every facet a true story, untold story, political story and a queer story, front and centered at the height of the AIDS epidemic set at the 1992 Democratic convention told 25 years later. Infused with music and hilarity, and the ambiance filled with celebration, and memories through the eyes of Terence Smith A.K.A. Joan Jett Blakk.
The atmosphere is set up like a nightclub, with party zone seating options and up-close walkway seating similar to Paris Fashion Week and cabaret style café tables with comfy couch seating. Blakk enters the room late but soon shows that fire and passion she has for the cause and being the first drag queer candidate for President against current President George Bush.
Ms. Blakk, played by Tarell Alvin McCraney, is heading up her campaign for mayor of Chicago running against the incumbent Richard M. Daley in 1991. Seeking to get her platform out there on a bigger stage Ms. Blakk decides to move her 'Urgent Agenda' to Madison Square Garden to a national stage, under the slogan "Lick Bush in '92" to the Democratic Party national convention.
Landau and McCraney honor Marsha P. Johnson who was an American gay liberation activist and self-identified drag queen; known as an outspoken advocate for gay rights, a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front, and she co-founded the gay and transvestite advocacy organization S.T.A.R. (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries).
Frustrated that the 1992 Democratic Party and nominee Bill Clinton did not mention the health crisis that was afflicting gays in America, Blakk with the help of Mark (Patrick Andrews) and JJ (Daniel Kyri) seek to make an impact while telling the story about the life of being queer in a world of the 90's and how people detested their lifestyle. Rick would have wished they went back to 1924, to speak more about German immigrant, Henry Gerber, who founded the Society for Human Rights in Chicago. This is the first documented gay rights organization in the United States who's Chicago house is now a National Historic Landmark.
Determined to make it to New York to be heard at the Democratic Convention, Blakk decides to show her patriotic love by wearing an American flag dress. Contrary to the two people who were assisting her to make it on the national stage, Mark and Lenny (Molly Brennan) felt Blakk's appearance would bring the wrong attention to their motto of "We are here, We are Queer & We don't live in fear."
The talented six Patrick Andrews, Molly Brennan, Daniel Kyri, Jon Hudson Odom, Sawyer Smith, and Tarell McCraney, starring as the title role worked effortlessly entertaining the audience with high-spiritedness of laughter and truth. In the audience was the real Terence Smith (Joan Jett Blakk), along with the daughter of the former mayor and a Steppenwolf supporter, Nora Daley, as well as the new mayor of Chicago Lori Lightfoot; who was by far the most noticeable person of the evening festivities.
Though Ms. Blakk For President had a dose of realism with a cast of six hitting on some weighty topics, this is one play where we differ in our views. Brenda felt it was a fantastic night for theatre, while Rick thought it missed the mark on being an excellent story about the life and struggles Blakk and the gay community suffered. He also felt that the story never truly focus on one specific period, jumping from 1992 to the present without genuinely connecting the dots. He would have also liked it to focus more on the homegrown story and essential details that surface while running for President in Chicago 27 years ago; when the outbreak of AIDS in the United States dominated the struggle for gay rights in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Brenda felt the show was perceived as a fun scene that kept the party going from the pre-show to the actual play where you can partake in all of its glory from the party zone /seating, where confetti performances, politicos, fashionistas, nostalgists, and cocktail-toting drag queens are serving it up for 1hr and 40 minutes until the after party begins. Rick felt like the pre-show partying went overbroad, and its erotic nature pulled away from what could have been a fantastic storyline about the bravery and will-power to fight for acceptance.
'MS. BLAKK FOR PRESIDENT' is just in time for 'Pride Month' and off of the heels of this historic mayoral election, and the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall riots. The play asks the questions, 'What is a man? What is a woman? What is gender?
Let's Play 'Recommend' that you see MS. BLAKK, where you are invited to experience rather than look at the performance.
Steppenwolf Presents the World Premiere of
MS. BLAKK FOR PRESIDENT
By Ensemble Members Tina Landau and Tarell Alvin McCraney
Conceived and Directed by Tina Landau
Featuring Tarell Alvin McCraney
Now Playing through July 14, 2019
Filed under: ChicagoNow