Nothing Feeds A Hunger Like A Thirst: “A Strange Loop”

Kai Clifton (center) and the company. Maggie Hall Photography.

Presented by SpeakEasy Stage Co and The Front Porch Arts Collective
Book, Music and Lyrics by Michael R. Jackson
Directed by Maurice Emmanuel Parent 
Music direction by David Freeman Coleman
Choreography by Taavon Gamble
Intimacy Direction by Greg Geffard
Dramaturgy by Elijah Albert-Stein

April 26, 2024 – May 25, 2024
The Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA
Boston, MA

Critique by Kitty Drexel

BOSTON, Mass. — SpeakEasy Stage Company and The Front Porch Arts Collective’s A Strange Loop at the BCA is fucking amazing and you should see it now. It is a voluptuous Möbius strip tease perpetually feeding excellence into itself from the smallest prop by Emme Shaw to the Lil Nas X’s Montero-like intimacy direction by Greg Geffard up to the highest heights of Kai Clifton’s fluid vocal ornamentation. Get your tickets. 

Usher (Kai Clifton) is a fat, Black, queer, male, multi-hyphenate artist moonlighting as a Disney usher for a familiar musical writing a musical about a fat, Black, gay man writing a musical. Usher contends with his six Thoughts (Grant Evan, De’Lon Grant, Jonathan Melo, Zion Middleton, Davron S Moroe, Aaron Michael Ray) for clarity, balance, and self-acceptance. 

A Strange Loop contains explicit language, depicts graphic sexual acts, and includes references to homophobia, racism, and sexual assault. It is not appropriate for children and some adults. 

The characters within Usher’s strange loop reflect the cruel reality in which Usher lives. They tell Usher he is simultaneously too much and not enough. They are the community that tells him God doesn’t love him how God made him. A Strange Loop is largely comedic, but its dark themes can impact one’s mental health. This show might not be the right fit for some attendees. You are perfect the way you are. You deserve love.

Kai Clifton dominates SpeakEasy’s stage as Usher with this season’s best performance by a lead actor. They sing Jackson’s music with virtuosity and speak Jackson’s lines with vulnerability and intention. From the first moment he enters, we are treated to Clifton’s prowess and presence. The role of Usher is a perfect fit.

Clifton adds little flourishes to their performance that enhance the production. A costume adjustment isn’t merely a pull of clothing; Clifton added a shimmy between numbers to adjust his jeans for comfort which looked intentionally staged. It was a micro-affirmation of character. A water bottle assist from a cast member wasn’t just hydration; it was another micro-affirmation. Clifton is so immersed in the show, he responds to the moments as Usher. That’s great stagecraft. 

The ensemble is a powerhouse of greatness. Grant Evan, Davron S Monroe, Jonathan Melo, Aaron Michael Ray, De’Lon Grant, and Zion Middleton are all excellent vocalists, dancers, and actors in their own right. Clifton excels because they are raised high by the ensemble.

Kai Clifton (center) and the company. Maggie Hall Photography.

Dramaturg Elijah Albert-Stein’s playbill treatise “Inner White Girl?” is excellent. The essay is well-written, organized, and written in a clear voice that is distinctly theirs. It assists the reader in understanding the musical by referencing Jackson’s inspirations and influences with enlightening effect: Darius Marcel Smith’s lyric, “To all those Black gay boys who chose to go on back to the Lord,” Douglas Hofstadter’s “Strange Loop” concept, and Liz Phair’s seminal album, “Exile in Guyville.” 

Even if you don’t directly identify with the musical’s messages (or because it doesn’t speak to you) it behooves our queer community to support queer art. We don’t do it for us. We do it, so it reaches the people who need it. The community need is vast. 

A Strange Loop is brilliant, comedic, and tragic. None of us are free until we are all free. Get a ticket. See some brilliant art. Learn something from and about your folx.    

Updated 5/1/24: A previous version of this critique included a section about the stage-right speakers misbehaving. The sound issues are resolved. 

If you enjoyed this article, please consider making a donation. Every cent earned goes towards the upkeep and continuation of the New England Theatre Geek.
Become a patron at Patreon!

Comments are closed.