‘New and/or Slightly Used’
Sunday at 5 and 8 p.m.
645 New York Ave., NW
Two lives can be significantly changed — for better or worse — by one fleeting but momentous encounter. That’s the thematic thread running through “New and/or Slightly Used,” a collection of eight short plays about black gay, bi and questioning men here in Washington.
In celebration of D.C. Black Pride Weekend, the African-American Collective Theater (ACT) is presenting the work as a staged reading for one night only with two performances on Sunday.
Written and directed by ACT’s Artistic Director Alan Sharpe, the 10-minute-long mini-plays thoughtfully explore instances of love, lust and longing as experienced by a cross section of men ranging from hustlers to husbands.
“The plays run the gamut in terms of characters and situations,” Sharpe says. “Some characters are self-identified as gay, some are in relationships with both men and women and some are straight. It’s kind of a salad.”
“The cast is a mix too,” Sharpe says. “We have gay actors playing straight characters and vice versa. And because it’s a staged reading, there’s very little in terms of set, so I tried to pick a gorgeous cast so the audience will have a something to look at. We’re competing with a lot on gay pride day.”
In “Kickin’ It,” young out actor Tristan Phillip Hewitt plays Dante, a straight cocky high school jock who’s unaware that his buddy has feelings for him. When hot weather prompts the friends to trade basketball for a racier indoor game, it means something different to each boy.
“For me,” says Hewitt, a 21-year-old native Washingtonian who says he’s too tall to be confined to any closet, “this show gives me the experience to be someone else for 10 minutes. In reality I’m no good at basketball. I may have the body of an athlete, but I’m not one. I get to play a jock whose personality is nothing like mine.”
On the other hand, out actor Reginald Richard who plays 30-something Eric in “All Over Him,” says he is very similar to his gay character. “When I first read the play it was as if I was seeing my life story written on the page. Like Eric, I’ve been hurt by someone who wasn’t as much in love with me as I was with him. You have that awkward moment when you see them and you’re not sure what to do. As Eric, I have a chance to unload and achieve closure.”
“Sharpe’s writing is refreshingly realistic and natural,” Richard says. “It’s not stereotypical gay humor. He writes honestly about a very diverse community.”
Originally from Memphis, Tenn., Richard has been in D.C. for 10 years and has been acting for the last four. His experiences with ACT have led him to consider acting as a career. “If I want to be with the best I have to learn with the best, so I put myself in school [at the National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts]. It’s very challenging, but I’m always up for a challenge.”
With Sharpe at the helm, ACT has been commemorating Black Pride with LGBT-centric theater for 15 years. “When we first started, there were not a lot of vehicles where black and gay lesbians could see themselves on stage, and they were thirsty for that. The response was so great that it completely altered my artistic focus. I discovered a niche that no else was filling.”
ACT’s mission is to showcase contemporary black gay and lesbian life and culture, promote visibility and raise awareness of issues faced in the African-American community.
“By increasing visibility,” Sharpe says, “We strive to demonstrate to people that regardless of race class and gender we have similar experiences. Everyone has been disappointed. Everyone has fallen in love and had their heart broken. The human experience is very universal.”
Cast member Hewitt concurs: “Be prepared to find a piece of yourself in one of these plays.”