Review: Naked as a Gaybird by Salvage Vanguard Theater
by David Glen Robinson
Jay Byrd's autobiographical one-man show Naked as a Gaybird is strong in content and themes. It's a demonstration of skill and fortitude, as any one-actor show must be. Byrd is well up to the task, with the aid of director Jenny Larson. His show is also a work of penis adoration, the visuals mostly presented in cartoon animation videos by Ray Ray Mitrano and Aron Taylor.
In hilarious presentation Byrd tells about growing up gay and how he got to his current point in life. Many stories are tinged with tragedy or are outright tragedies, so much so that this reviewer often wondered if he should be laughing at them at all. Nervous laughter around the theater suggested he wasn't alone in that uncertainty. Byrd’s jumbled timeline and nonlinear storytelling, so à la mode, did not finally come together or resolve itself into an understanding, for the audience, of the self acceptance Byrd says he now has. To the point, he told stories to start the show about subteen explorations, then later he spoke about how he was cornered into seeking therapy in college. The focus of that treatment was on how to stop becoming a homosexual, avoiding an identity he feared and worried about. Byrd then told stories of when he was nine years old and sexually abused by a gay uncle, a man with whom he had sex for decades, perhaps even to the present day. If you reconnect these dots following time’s arrow, you can’t imagine his college therapy being about becoming homosexual; he had already been there for years and was well aware of it.
Byrd's performance is a well-written and well-performed patchwork quilt of experiences pulled out of time, quilted by the narrator who experienced them. Certain of the stories involving the teenage Byrd's behavior with dogs are highly disturbing. Highly. Peculiar, too, is the variable scale of address of major chapters in his life, especially the almost unmentioned AIDS plague of the 1980s when Byrd was in New York having a lot of anonymous sex with men in the parks. Byrd confesses his self-hating recklessness, but only in about two spoken sentences.
Selective focus is necessary in any show or play. In a one-man show about revelation and liberation, obscured areas become more obvious by contrast. These are precisely the areas that would make the best teachable moments in the community engagement series allied with the show. Even the most courageous performers have wounds too sensitive to reveal; perhaps Byrd can return to them in future work.
The greatest value of the narrative, for adults of any orientation, is his demonstration of how loss and failure are often the key turning points in a life. Most powerful of these was Byrd’s account of the loss of a deep relationship and a group's severe emotional abuse of him that -- abetted by alcohol -- propelled him out of college.
The show is definitely not for children; it is also not for a lot of adults. When Byrd gave us the full monte, the two women sitting to my right clamped their hands over their eyes, groaned softly and twisted in their seats until a man behind them cued them that it was safe to look again. Just about every man on earth would kill to elicit the same reaction even once in his life.
Jay Byrd is sending us dispatches from his odyssey of sexual liberation. At this point that means liberation to engage in sexual promiscuity, homosexual variety. Not yet available to him in real life are the outcomes and acceptance gained by the characters in Terence McNally’s Love!Valor!Compassion! We wish him the best and request more dispatches from him when he gets there.
The show program announces The Naked as a Gaybird Community Engagement Series, to be moderated by Byrd. The series of events and activities will be in cooperation with community organizations having gay or transgender support missions.
Naked as a Gaybird runs until November 21, 2015 at Salvage Vanguard Theater.
November 05 - November 21, 2015
2803 E Manor Rd
Austin, TX, 78722
November 5th- 21st 2015, Thursday –Saturday nights at 8pm in SVT’s Studio Theater.
November 6th 8PM – Performance and Post Show Panel hosted by OUTsider Fest
November 13th 7PM - Performance and Post Show Panel hosted by YWCA of Greater Austin and BedPost Confessions. This performance is ASL interpreted.
November 20th 8PM – Gaybird’s Disco – a VIP event with free food, drinks and a post show performance by Gretchen’s Disco Plague.
Tickets to NAKED AS A GAYBIRD are pay-what-you-wish, starting price $10. The Gaybird Disco Night tickets are $35 each and include free drinks, food, and a post-show party with the creative team. Buy tickets online at salvagevanguard.org, firstname.lastname@example.org, and 512-476-SVT6.