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Rogue Review: "The Real Black Swann," show #831

When I see Les Kurkendaal-Barrett on the Rogue lineup I make sure I see him; he delivers material with urgency which isn’t panic, passion without ego, and he doesn’t search for laughs or applause but, rather, allows for authentic, organic audience reaction and interaction. His newest show, The Real Black Swann, is, perhaps, his greatest performance yet, bringing his real-life surgery-induced dream to tell us the story of his other worldly interaction with the first-known Black drag queen, William Dorsey Swann.

Swann journeyed from slave to drag queen, and Les is just the artist to dramatize this story. Kurkendaal-Barrett’s excellent dual portrayal of himself and as Dorsey is subtle yet effective, a shift in timbre and posture is all that’s needed for these two characters to give both biography and anecdotal entertainment. Kurkendaal-Barrett’s show isn’t without a message: that black men have faced discrimination, socially and legally, from Dorsey’s time to before George Floyd, and the similarities in abuse are eerily, well, similar. Les shapes this story in a brilliantly nostalgic device of surrounding himself in a Glinda-esque pink bubble where as a gay, black man he is both protected from others and by others; it’s when the bubble is popped that his sadness and anger is on vulnerable display.

This story is powerful in both its history lesson and modern-day implications of Kurkendaal-Barrett’s own facing of police and social discrimination, from school to local Fresno residents. You can catch the remaining performances of The Real Black Swann at the ViSTA Theater on Friday, 3/11 at 8:30pm and Saturday, 3/12 at 2pm.

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