by Bri Little
NW Black Pride kicked off last night with Black D*ck Matters, written by Kathya Alexander (co-writer of Black to My Roots: African American Tales from Head and the Heart) and directed and produced by Tyrone Brown. The multimedia experimental experience premiered at Gay City in front of a full house, and much like Black Pride itself, the play was provocative. The piece both asks and answers a question aimed toward Black men: How does “it” feel? The answers, revealed throughout the play, unmask the tenderness of Black pain alongside Black pleasure.
Black D*ck Matters, at its essence, explores the fleeting physicality of the Black male body. The monologues and final ensemble piece — performed by a cast of cis men, women, and a trans man — delve into themes of homelessness, the value of sex work, and of course, gay sex. The raw, almost technical descriptions of intercourse — mostly between men — belie the intimacy embedded in Black male relationships. In this play, Black men are loving themselves, their women, and other men in the ways they know how.
In the second half, the play jerks the audience out of the passionate whimsy of sex and into the decidedly unsexy and unflinching history of violence against the male Black body. The same parts of the Black man that are coveted for pleasure are fetishized and stolen, dehumanizing the Black man into a symbol of aggression and danger.
Despite the small stage, the actors in Black D*ck Matters made optimal use of the space. Often there would be multiple actors on stage during one monologue, adding a feeling of cohesion to the seemingly unrelated stories, as if they were being told by a revolving door of voices.
Halfway through the piece, a short video served as an intermission, playing an acoustic cover of D’Angelo’s “How Does It Feel” and displaying Alexander’s guiding questions, whose answers provided the basis for the monologues: What does the Black man want? What does the Black man need? How does “it” feel?
Black D*ck Matters appears to be a study in Black masculinity and sexuality, with moments that force the audience to confront potential discomfort with perceived taboos of gay sex and the discussion of white violence. While these are excellent and always pertinent concepts to explore within a piece of art, many of the scenes convey the same kind of dick-centric, penetrative sex, to a point where it reads like hastily-written erotica. Alexander could have taken the opportunity to portray various forms of queer sex. And while the elements depicting the white crusade against Black male bodies was mostly beautifully written and powerfully performed, some of the scenes came off as heavy-handed and borderline preachy due to the use of bulky jargon. Regardless of areas for improvement, the play succeeds in leaving the audience grappling with the fine line between desire and objectification of Black men.
Under the shroud of raunchy sex, there’s an important series of stories within Black D*ck Matters. The play gives voice to a handful of Black men’s experiences, yet encompasses the violent history and current reality that all Black men carry on their physical and mental selves. Black D*ck Matters is showing Saturday, August 24 at Gay City: Seattle’s LGBTQ Center. Tickets are $15.