Staceyann Chin, a Jamaican lesbian veteran of “Def Jam Poetry,” shines with truth
If the spirit of LGBT liberation is eluding you in this season of pride, rediscover it at The Culture Project, where poet and performance artist Staceyann Chin gathers up all the strains of her colorful life into a witty, moving, intelligent, sexy and bittersweet tale of love and revolution that she calls “Border/Clash: A Litany of Desires.”
Chin, a native of Jamaica with both Chinese and African ancestry, first displayed her considerable talent at the Nuyorican Poets Café in New York in 1998, a moment relived to great effect in this show. She took her slamming all over the world, eventually being invited to be a part of “Def Poetry Jam” on HBO and on Broadway.
If you are done with one-person shows, Staceyann Chin in all her slender, big-haired glory should redeem the genre for you. When she starts out portraying her childhood in Jamaica, I was worried this might be an evening of cutesiness and earnestness. That fear was quickly extinguished. Chin doesn’t just tell her story and those of her family and lovers and antagonists, she seamlessly weaves in incisive commentary while maintaining her dramatic narrative.
Especially riveting is her recreation of a frightening incident where she was confronted by a gang of men for being the only out lesbian at her university. She conveys her own terror and the cruelty and stupidity of her attackers without descending into pathos, all the while helping us understand the significance of what is going on.
Chin tells us her motto is Audre Lorde’s warning, “Your silence will not protect you.” There is barely a pause in this 90-minute whirlwind tour of her life and no one––including herself––escapes her trenchant analysis.
Chin harbors affection for her island nation, but she will never be asked to be a spokesperson for the Jamaican Tourist Board. And while New York may offer her the opportunity to express her sexuality and politics more openly, the increasingly reactionary politics of America today drive her just as crazy.
Staceyann Chin is restless on stage and in life and love. She reminds us that we can never totally be at home in this broken world, but we can still feast on its many delights––not least this shared experience in the theater. It is a liberating truth, performed by an admirable activist and artist who is also a terrific entertainer.
Chin is the writer and performer of "Border/Clash," but she is not alone on stage. She is briskly directed by Rob Urbanti, inhabiting an environment designed and lit by Garin Marschall that lets her shine.