Stage: Wednesday, February 23, 2005
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Dark on the outside, white on the inside: Comic Michael Sosa suffers an identity crisis on stage.
Confessions of a Coconut
Runs Feb 27 & 28 and March 1 at Ridglea Theater, 6025 Camp Bowie. 817-738-9500.
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Roots

Fort Worth comedian Michael Sosa tries to crack a tough Coconut.

By JIMMY FOWLER

When theater artist Spalding Gray committed suicide last year, he managed to accomplish one thing: In retrospect, people seemed finally to agree on what it was he did up there behind the footlights. Folks no longer snickered that he was a morose stand-up comic who sat down and used A/V tricks. He wasn’t really acting in his shows, although there were times he took on small roles in other people’s plays and movies. The near-useless “performance art” label could be dropped. Gray, the obit writers declared in near-consensus, was a monologist, which is, natch, a performer who specializes in giving long monologues.
That word hasn’t been used much since those eulogies, but Fort Worth’s Michael Sosa is a monologist — or at least has become one for his show Confessions of a Coconut. He spent, by his own description, several “moderately successful” years as a stand-up comic touring the top clubs in the country. He also had numerous small roles in film and television. But Confessions, which Sosa erroneously subtitles “a one-man play,” is both a serious departure from and a combination of stand-up and acting in the form of an autobiographical monologue, one that touches on heavy-duty issues of racial identity, prejudice, and cultural expectations that can strangle. Sosa has some remarkable raw material under his belt, but despite an open, affable onstage presence in the Ridglea Theater’s balcony space last Sunday night, he proved unable to pull all of the elements and ideas into satisfying focus.
Sosa, 50, made his entrance as a tall, slim, bespectacled, good-looking fellow, dudded up in nice-casual dark clothes for his short, bare-bones performance. His only props were a briefcase, a water bottle, and a bar chair on a stage cluttered with backstage detritus. He used no projected graphics or audio effects, although Confessions of a Coconut could easily lend itself to such tools, as Sosa reaches back for anecdotes to his childhood and young adult years. The show opens with Sosa waiting for his plane at an airport bar post-9/11. The bartender asks him if he wants a cerveza, and Sosa confesses he doesn’t know what that word means. This prompts a nervous phone call by the waiter to airport security, which becomes the show’s scatter-shot theme vis-à-vis the tropical fruit in the title: Michael Sosa is a Mexican-American who doesn’t speak Spanish, so nobody knows exactly who or what he is in a world where ethnic divisions are both proudly drawn and closely watched. He’s “brown on the outside, white on the inside.” Throughout the ’60s, we learn, Sosa attended private Catholic schools in Fort Worth’s suburban Wedgwood neighborhood with exclusively, glaringly Anglo classmates. When he rather belatedly entered the showbiz world at 34, he was told by fellow Latinos (most importantly, the manager of rising stars George Lopez and Paul Rodriguez) that he was disconnected from his roots because he communicates in English only and because he played with white kids — never mind that those are his roots. Trying hard, he can’t manage to make himself feel particularly bereft in that department. He comes to the conclusion that there are “man-made lines” drawn all over society, because he keeps bumping into them.
The childhood part of Sosa’s Coconut monologue is, relatively, the most trenchant and poignant of the evening, although it’s just as far-flung and randomly observational as the whole piece. The kids at parochial school sneer that he’s a “nigger” because he has brown skin — they don’t know what else to call him. He suspects the status of the Mexican-American had taken a nosedive despite the “brown power” mentality of the ’60s and ’70s: His Mexican grandparents were labeled immigrants, and his parents had such genuinely innovative, highly visible role models as tv pioneer Desi Arnaz to look up to. Later on, Latino immigrants among Sosa’s generation were referred to as “aliens,” and they wound up with Cheech Marin. Sosa readily admits that tv was an incalculable influence on him, a dazzling white field with only occasional brown blips that spurred a fervent wish that his name was the ultra-Caucasian “Steve Carter.” And the “God’s Oven” theory of racial pride his mother offers him, when he flatly declares he wants to be Anglo, is too priceless to be anything but authentic: “Whites are underbaked, blacks are overbaked, but Mexicans are baked juuust right ...”
Unfortunately, Sosa proves to be his own worst enemy in the delivery of Confessions of a Coconut. Perhaps it’s been awhile since Sosa performed for an audience, but he frequently flubbed his lines, stumbled too long in finding the right word, and backtracked on subject matter when he seemed to introduce a topic too quickly. The sly comic timing is apparent enough throughout the show, but Confessions desperately needs more rehearsals, not to mention an outside director (the program doesn’t list one) to help Sosa generate a sense of pacing.
An editor would be nice, too. Perhaps to emphasize his stand-up comic roots, Sosa abruptly and regularly detoured into fossilized shtick on topics like those crazy Texas drivers and the stupid people in supermarket checkout lines. But those maddening distractions, even cumulatively, are not as wince-inducing as one little moment. When Sosa introduces a story about how the themes of biracial bigotry in the movie Giant affected him as a kid, he unironically expresses affection for that era when “we had the good Rock Hudson.” You remember that version of Rock Hudson — the closeted, pre-AIDS one. That that Hudson — apparently a childhood idol of Sosa’s — bumped up against the “man-made lines” in showbiz seems utterly lost on Sosa, although it does demonstrate the murky thinking that hobbles Confessions of a Coconut in its current form.


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