Sunday, October 5, 2008

"May Day Parade": ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

"Diggigi doo BOP doo doo de BOP. Shaka shaka BOOP taka taka de dak!" Wayne Harris doesn't enter stage left, he MARCHES all over it. He's a big man with a lot of energy and he uses it all. Once his 90 minute recollection gets moving, recounting the day he first got to march in the annual May Day Parade in his native St. Louis, as an eight year old child, the ride never stops. Harris plays all the characters from that day in the 1960s -- most memorably his grandmother Mama Bell, who walks with bent over posture, balancing her 'shelf bootie' -- a rear end so big you can carry a tray on it. Family standouts as well are Harris's gentle mother, his hard-working railroad porter father, his brother and his aunts, the deacon's son with the foul mouth, as well as the many wonderful church goers, teachers and beauty shop operators who line the street as Wayne marches by.

Like all one-person shows, the performance is probably more important than the writing. Harris is a fine writer, and "May Day Parade" has many wonderful lines and a terrific flow, but Harris, who has been a performer all his life, dominates the stage in a way most soloists cannot. You can easily see him acting other people's material as well as his own.

One favorite moment is Harris's depiction of the 'Letter Girls,' a group of oversized young women from Beaumont High who, having been judged too large to become cheerleaders, get their moment in the sun dancing to James Brown at the May Day Parade.

Harris informs us that today the May Day Parade in St. Louis is sponsored by McDonalds and it no longer takes place in the 'hood. But his description of the way it used to be makes us all long to have been there, marching down the boulevard, staying in step and keeping it real.

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards 'May Day Parade' three stars with a Bangle of Praise. Two of the three stars are for Harris's writing and performing, but the third is for all those drum lines. He is such a musical force on stage that it is hard to stay seated in your little red chair. This viewer wanted to stand up and form a Second Line right behind him.

There are several moments that deserve special mention, but the Bangle of Praise is for after the march, when eight year old Wayne relaxes in the park, shoes off, feeling the cool grass on his feet, surrounded by his loving family. He is, in Harris's words: "...sitting on the triumphant side of the struggle." We are so happy for him. And for us.

"May Day Parade"
The Marsh
1062 Valencia St. San Francisco
Saturday at 8 and Sunday at 3, through Nov. 9
$15-$35 sliding scale

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