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STREAMING THEATER REVIEW The Pursuit of Happiness: A BoHo Exploration of Freedom
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2020-09-02

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Playwright: Scripted by the artists and curated by Sana Selemon

At: Streaming online at BoHoTheatre.com Tickets: free with donation . Runs through: Open run

The projected shuttering of theater facilities for the remainder of the year ruled out cozy big-crowds-in-tiny-spaces musical pageants, but that didn't stop BoHo Theatre invoking their special talent for inviting every playgoer to share in an intimate conversation with its onstage personnel.

Since you can't get much more intimate than a heart-to-heart conducted in your own home, online stream seemed a fitting venue for BoHo's first production following their five Jeffs awarded in June.

The topic of this "exploration" is freedom—as explicated, extolled and celebrated by an ensemble representing segments of our society for whom that intangible commodity has not always been granted, well, freely. Without the accelerant of on-site spectators puffing adrenaline fumes at one another, however, it's not enough to merely string together a series of chest-thumping inspirational anthems from the Broadway/Cabaret repertoire.

What most distinguishes BoHo's symposial revue is the diversity reflected, not only in its BIPOC cast, but in its selection of material. To be sure, the hour-long program includes fermata-laced torchers like "And I Am Telling You" and "The Man That Got Away" along with the obligatory "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother"—but the likewise inevitable "I Gotta Be Me" is rendered in gentle soft-shoe tempo and dedicated to pioneering Vaudeville hoofer Bert Williams. We are offered a medley from the score of The Color Purple, but also a musical dialectic juxtaposing Bob Dylan's "The Times, They Are A-Changing" with Tracy Chapman's "Revolution" in addition to such period classics as Scott Joplin's "Easy Winners Rag" and Nina Simone's "I Wonder How It Feels to Be Free" ( "Like a bird in the sky/I'd soar to the sun" ).

It's not all warbles and belts, though: Enhanced spoken-word accounts describe how unexpected identity and enlightenment may be discovered within the restricted environment of a Jesuit seminary, muse on the irony of a society where even Freedom itself comes at a price, and caution us to exercise diligence in guarding ours. Sometimes no words are needed, as in the poignant cinematic tale of a lonely young single who fashions herself a companion from old clothes and a paper-mache pig-mask for company and cuddling during the current isolation.

That same isolation mandates solitary entertainers overcoming spartan recording-booth acoustics, bare-bones instrumentals and the occasional missed note, but by the time esteemed artist/activist Marguerite Mariama exhorts us in a rousing triple-lyric finale to "Stand up! Stand up!" we are as cognizant as we are appreciative of the talent and industry—don't forget BoHo director/curator Sana Selemon. accompanist Nick Graffagna and video editors Tony Churchill and Charles Riffenburg—going into the assembly of this contemplation on a privilege too often taken for granted.


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