The query that LeLand Gantt puts forth at the conclusion of “Rhapsody in Black” is “ignore or engage … which will it be?”
The 90-minute one-man show – which played the Lied Center’s Johnny Carson Theater Monday evening – is a journey through one man’s personal experiences and understanding of racism.
With Gantt’s request at the end of the presentation being a stimulus for audience consideration in regard to individual reaction to racism in our society.
Traveling from the mid-1960s through today, Gantt utilizes storytelling to detail chapters of his life from a Pennsylvania ghetto to teenage experiences with drugs and crime, achievement in school, advancement to college and how he saw racism in those stages.
He also delves into incidents he encounters as an adult – Black on Black racism, profiling, being The Other/the only raisin in the pudding, and running from his accepting being Black.
There is anger and comedy in his stories, as well as charisma. Gantt is an engrossing relater of his experiences, but the tales all have a point, which while tantalizingly revealed amidst his recollections, ultimately are distinctly sobering.
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Gantt’s performance yields an intensity that demonstrates great variation. From being a youth dreaming of comic book superheroes to a young man’s bristly indignation at being racially categorized or his confusion about who he thinks he is.
Exercising lightning quick changes of emotion and force, Gantt’s performance is strong and masterful, whether his piercing eyes are shooting forth rage or shadowed futility, or his hands and arms knotting with tension or his slumping in acquiescence.
“Rhapsody in Black” is a piece about race, so not surprisingly color plays a part in the presentation – Gantt first appears in a black tee and jeans. When he is in college, he dons a white jacket which comes to represent his “turning white” to his friends from the hood.
The show’s sparse stage – populated by a few geometric blocks and a set of stairs – and its back drop are all hued in a light-to-medium gray, denoting a homogenized blend of black and white.
“Rhapsody in Black” is an adult show with adult language and adult situations. And an adult question about racism in America – ignore it or engage it … which will it be?