Friday, June 18, 2010

Fierce Love: Stories from Black Gay Life by Pomo Afro Homos

Thandiwe Thomas DeShazor, Brian Freeman, and Dazie Rustin Grego

A lucky audience experienced the 20th anniversary of one of the best shows about African-American gay men and their stories on June 15 at the San Francisco Main Public Library. "Fierce Love: Stories from Black Gay Life by Pomo Afro Homos" was as fresh and uplifting and outrageous as it was 20 years ago when it erupted onto the stage at Josie’s Juice Joint in the Castro.

Its creator Brian Freeman was speaking with Josie’s manager Donald Montwill one day about a need for such a show and Montwill turned to him and said to get a show together and he would support it. Montwill, much missed now, founded the AIDS Project of Maui with his lovers Jim Manness and Tom Calvanese, and then they moved to San Francisco to manage the Valencia Rose and later Josie’s with a rule that no sexism, racism, or homophobia would be expressed on their stages. Whoopi Goldberg was invited by Montwill to perform at the Valencia Rose just before "The Color Purple" was released, when she needed work and assurances, and she supported him throughout his illnesses and was seen pushing Manness’ wheelchair past the White House during the March on Washington.

"Pomo Afro Homos" with its views into the private lives of characters Freeman and his collaborators knew and dreamed up was an immediate hit, and eventually was performed all over the world. When it was on stage in Alaska it caused great controversy involving bigots and the state legislature.

Freeman is a playwright/actor/director with tremendous depth of purpose and a passion for quality in his work. His hard-hitting "Civil Sex" about the life of openly-gay civil rights leader Bayard Rustin is an inspiration to political activists and theater writers. Starting with the San Francisco Mime Troupe, Freeman has also been involved with "A Slight Variance" at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and with the Afro Solo Festival.

Freeman chose well when he invited two young performers to join him in a show on stage at the Koret Auditorium last Tuesday. Thandiwe Thomas DeShazor performed at the recent, highly-regarded Afro Solo Festival and Dazie Rustin Grego starred in his own "I Am a Man" show at Mama Calizo’s Voice Factory. DeShazor and Grego expertly interacted with each other and with Freeman, conjuring up the dazzling show that this journalist enjoyed with his friends two decades ago.

Their verbal duel between activists and party guys, a couple going through escalating gentrification, and a loving gay couple dealing with a hypocritical intruder enchanted listeners and drew sighs and yeahs from the crowd.

The James C. Hormel Center’s Karen Sundheim welcomed the guests to the event, and she mentioned that the Hormel and African-American Centers of the Main Library and the National Queer Arts Festival sponsored the performance, and the sustained applause throughout the evening showed the approval of the audience.

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