IndyFringe: The Real Black Swan

This is part of IndyFringe 2022, Aug. 18-Sept. 4 (individual performance times vary) in downtown Indianapolis. Details and tickets at IndyFringe.org.

By John Lyle Belden

Popular Fringe storyteller Les Kurkendaal-Barrett returns to bring us “The Real Black Swan: Confessions of America’s First Black Drag Queen.” In the process, he gets in a few confessions of his own.

For most of his life, Les had a Pink Bubble. It’s like the one Glinda the Good Witch rides in on in “The Wizard of Oz.” Only he can see it, but it protects him.

More recently, Les had a lump in his thigh. It turned out to be a tumor, but neither it, nor the growing Black Lives Matter movement outside his doors concerned him, as the Pink Bubble remained intact.

As he prepared for surgery to remove and examine the lump, Les learned of an article about William Dorsey Swann, who was born a slave in the 1800s and went on to become a Black drag queen (reportedly the first) as well as the first LGBTQ activist on record. This being good material for his next show, Les let it into the bubble. Then he checked in to the hospital.

Under anesthesia, Les drifted in a haze, surrounded by the bubble’s pink glow. Then he saw someone walking towards him – this person was tall, Black, and in a 19th-century dress. In a gruff voice, Swann declared, “You need to start feeling things!”

POP!

We’re not in Oz anymore; this dream takes a more “Ebenezer Scrooge” turn, as Les – and we – examine Swann’s life, and the moments where Les could have used The Queen’s strength. His talent for entertaining us with his introspective stories is blended with a fascinating biography. We get an insight into the history of “gay life” (in both senses of the word) in old Washington, D.C. As one would expect, Swann saw his share of trouble, but being taught how to write while in jail led to his petitioning President Grover Cleveland for a pardon – securing his place in history, regardless of the outcome.

This exercise in self-reflection – we learn why “Kurkendaal” is spelled that way – coupled with seeing worlds outside the bubble, make for yet another great performance in Les’s exceptional repertoire.

Pop on over to the District Theatre to see him 9 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 25, and 5:15 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 28.

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