Wednesday, August 13, 2014

FringeNYC benefits: "Magical Negro Speaks"

Written and performed by Jamil Ellis

No arguing. I'm sending you over to The White Box at 440 Studios to see Magical Negro Speaks, an hour-long performance by comic Jamil Ellis. Structurally, the show's messy, but it's genuinely funny and effectively rips at that Hollywood tradition of casting Black actors in certain archetypal, stereotypical roles that, on the face of things, can seem benign.

Ellis frequently cites Will Smith in The Legend of Bagger Vance, Michael Clark Duncan in The Green Mile, Morgan Freeman in almost anything. You get the picture. These "magical Negro" roles flatten talented artists into two dimensions, making them sidekicks, second fiddles, self-effacing helpmates, mystical wisemen/women, generous healers and--to be blunt--handy props for the white actors who ultimately go on to get the glory.

Ellis knows he's not the entertainment industry's idea of a leading man. Denzel, relax. But he'd certainly like to have Washington's option to play against type. Or to play a role that at least does not embarrass him and will one day inspire his adorable little daughter.

A combination of stand-up, music numbers and clever video clips, Magical Negro Speaks is flawed in a human way. Where Ellis's mind drifts to dispiriting current events, for instance, everything goes slack. By the end of the hour, though, he has more than earned his right to connect the sentimentally personal and the political, and he gets the audience rooting for him.

Remaining shows:

Friday, August 15, 7:45pm
Saturday, August 16, 5:45pm
Sunday, August 17, 1:45pm
Wednesday, August 20, 9:15pm
Sunday, August 24, 5:15pm

The White Box
440 Lafayette St, 3rd Floor (Astor Place and East 4th Street), Manhattan

For all things FringeNYC, click below.

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