My Variety Review: Off-Broadway's "A Strange Loop"
No one cares about a writer who is struggling to write,” sings the anxiety-ridden lead character in Michael R. Jackson’s sometimes exhilarating, sometimes exasperating new musical, “A Strange Loop,” at Playwrights Horizons.
The abundantly talented Jackson takes the otherwise tired trope of the young, poor and sensitive artist trying to discover his true self and make it in New York, then adds layer upon layer of personal angst from a fresh and startling perspective.
Jackson’s hero is Usher (Larry Owens, sensational), an overweight, overwhelmed “ball of black confusion” trying to navigate without a compass the hierarchical white, black and gay worlds; his family’s religion, which condemns him for his sexuality; and an entertainment industry that isn’t interested in what he has to say. Oh yes, he’s also having an existential crisis as he deals with questions of reality, illusions, perceptions and identity. His biggest fear is that he’s stuck in an endless cycle of hopelessness where change is not possible.
Too much? Yes, but thanks to the sheer ambition of the work and the virtuosity of the production and performances, it nearly works.
However, he’s less successful in self-guiding his own life and career, finding himself lost and lonely, sustained only by his talent, his hyper self-awareness and his wicked, spot-on humor. “Snagging a man is like finding affordable housing in this town,” he laments. “There’s a long wait list and the landlords discriminate.”
The humor can get pretty shady — and sexually explicit and bleak — and even Usher asks himself, “Can I really write this?” (Spoiler: He does.)