Pushing forward through challenge. “If you’re not scared…then it’s probably not worth it.” This isn’t Broadway’s typical musical looking through the looking glass into some part of her soul thinking “white girls can do anything, can’t they?“ This is playwright Michael R. Jackson (the upcoming Amazon series “I’m a Virgo.“) finding his own on Broadway, whirling around intersectionality in the most detailed and delightfully dark loop, probably throwing not just a few patrons off their comfy little Broadway seats. If they just happen to wander in from Time Square thinking, “oh, this sounds like a fun little musical. Let’s check it out“.
But I’d be so thrilled if that is happening. A lot. Every day and every show, because it just needs to happen. Because this insanely brave and talented writer, credited, most brilliantly and deservedly with the book, music, lyrics, and the vocal arrangements, finds a space to call his own in his wildly successful attempt to unwrap himself fully inside and out of the Broadway norm . He’s out in force, in a big solid way, to pull apart the properties of our self-referential systems within the modern world in a theatrical manner that is pure unadulterated pleasure and pain in the sexual marketplace, unshackled from familial bondage and denial. A Strange Loop is a Russian doll dissection of sorts, peeling away and peering into the unique layers of our psyche in hopes of finding a sympathetic ear. It’s a self-referential concept that grew steadily out of Jackson’s own from a Liz Phair musical narrative that, luckily for us, embedded the construct deep inside his head. On closer examination, it really is drawn out of a deeper framework from Douglas Hofstadter’s book, ‘I Am a Strange Loop‘, in which the author tries to expound and understand the central thematic message of Gödel’s incompleteness theorems that famously centered around self-reference and the examination of the stratums of the mind. Got it?
Let’s walk on through this together and try to make some sense of it, thanks to some reading I did from the 2019 Playwrights Horizons handbook. Like Hofstadter, Jackson has taken this convoluted construct and mixed in a bit of WEB DuBoi with a quote about ‘dual-consciousness‘. Du Bois describes “dual-consciousness“as”a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity“. With those sophisticated heady ideas floating around his wickedly smart noggin, Jackson found his footing and formulated his own exploration of his life, and those that surround him, including his family, his society, Tyler Perry, and his own gang of internalized thoughts, whether they be cruel or compassionate. It is a mind/body slam in the most humorous way and as directed with crafty ingenuity by Stephen Brackett (Broadway’s Be More Chill) and choreographed by the fantastic Raja Feather Kelly (Public’s Suffs), the thrills of that first number sent me into joyous giggles of delight and surprise. And it just kept getting deeper and smarter, wittier and wiser, with each effervescent and boundary-free song. The show is like no other, while constructing itself safely in a style that feels familiar yet not. It’s like taking a sweet-sharp onion and peeling away the layers until we get to another onion, deep inside, that needs its own peeling. It may bring tears to your eyes simply out of the pleasure or the pain of the connecting interactions before you, but the perfection of the unit is solid in the growing, and as flavorful as any fruit that awaits ingestion. So how do you like those apples, my enthusiastic Broadway audience? It seems you do, from the reaction they had the other night.