nytheatre.com review by Anthony Pennino
August 15, 2004
Alex Parisien, the star of the one-man show Black Martian (which he also authored), is one hell of an actor. He jumps around stage assuming multiple roles from the life of his vaguely fictitious alter-ego Phillip in a performance worthy of the Tectonic Theater Project.
Black Martian serves as a coming-of-age story for Phillip, who is a Haitian-American. What is unique about Phillip’s story is that both his parents are doctors and that he grew up in Scarsdale, New York. The people who intersect with Phillip are from across the racial spectrum. Phillip, because of his upbringing, acts more “white” than “black,” and Parisien gets a great deal of comic and dramatic mileage out of his character’s failed attempts to fit in with the African American community. Interestingly, Parisien’s best acting emerges when he plays Bella, Phillip’s white girlfriend from Italy who eventually becomes his wife. There is a poignancy and passion when Parisien plays these scenes.
If only Parisien the playwright equaled Parisien the actor. As occurs frequently when actors write plays, the individual character moments are complex and exceptional, but there is something lacking in the arc and thematic structure of the piece. Parisien’s subject—that of trying to discover his identity in America (both personal and cultural)—is something that has universal resonance for audiences, even if the particulars differ. And his additional focus on class distinctions in the black community is a worthy subject. But he needs to tie all of his different ideas together in a tighter fashion. The opening of the play is particularly distancing because it feels thrown together, and the audience has not been given a chance to understand Phillip’s world or introduced to Parisien’s overarching concerns. A further difficulty is that Phillip as a young boy is far less appealing than Phillip as an adult.
Nonetheless, the script has a great deal of potential. With more development, it will no doubt become an impressive piece of theatrical writing. And there is a great deal to recommend Black Martian as is. Many of the individual moments (such as teenage Phillip’s Clockwork Orange-like experience where he is deprogrammed from loving pornography) are full of hilarity and sly truth. And spending 90 minutes watching Parisien transition between 15 very different and very compelling characters is in itself worth the price of admission.