nytheatre.com review by Nancy Kim
July 14, 2008
In a series of autobiographical snapshots, the likable and talented Cornelius Jones, Jr. delivers a wonderful and humbly honest solo performance in Flagboy. His coming-of-age story bounces from present to past, touching down in different cities while exploring everything from his sexuality and race, his relationships with family and mentors, and his coming to terms with having HIV.
Growing up in the 1980s and '90s, Jones uses some fun markers of the times to reveal in pointed ways how his sexuality and the expectations of gender begin to shift and shape. Singing along to Diana Ross's "I Want Muscles" as his younger self, Jones innocently remarks about how the muscled men in the video that catch his eyes—like playing dress-up in his mother's clothes—is a fun but covert act. Later his desire for MC Hammer pants (I know this desire well) leads to a confrontation with his father that underscores the rejection and fear of growing up as a young gay man in the African American community.
At the same time, some of the most effective scenes are Jones's discoveries of exploration and joy found in his sexuality: the remembrance of sweet bedtime kissing with a childhood friend, the small but electric touch shared between two teenagers, and—most enjoyably told—stumbling into a DC nightclub and describing the thrills of finding rooms and rooms of gay men and women who are free and open to be themselves.
It then becomes quite sobering when Jones takes us through the next few recollections when he discovers that he has acquired HIV. Director Joshua Ian guides a strong and grounded performance out of Jones as he navigates this part of his life story with clarity.
As addressed in the Playwright's Note, the title of the show, Flagboy, is Jones's connection of the significance of a flag—pride and identity—to his own life. Also, in one of his lighter and more comic monologues, he describes joining the marching band team and being forced to learn the different routines, one of which included flag spinning. He is immediately disdainful, but soon finds that his team is quite good at it. As Jones demonstrates the choreography, the audience giggles at his exaggerated straight face as he twirls and spins the flag over our heads. And yet at the end of the presentation, it is easy to make the same connections: how flags are unique and powerful in identifying nations and movements and how flags are also an opportunity to showcase pride publicly, as Jones does on stage with his own unique and personal story.