Luckily for me, I caught Joe Morton in “Turn Me Loose” during its last week at The Westside Theatre. “Turn Me Loose” is “a play about comic genius Dick Gregory.” Based on how much I laughed for the 90-minute duration, I’d call that an accurate description. Mind you, the play is as much about Dick Gregory the civil rights activist as it is about comedy, so there was plenty to ponder.
Joe Morton brought to vibrant and seething life Dick Gregory, a controversial comic who rose to fame just before and during the Civil Rights movement. The audience was howling with laughter one moment, then particularly pensive as Mr. Morton enacted a dialogue between Mr. Gregory and Medgar Evers in the months prior to the latter's death. The language, whether Mr. Morton was playing the young, the old, or middle-aged Gregory, was funny, provocative, angry, smart, and passionate.
|Joe Morton as Dick Gregory. Photo Credit Sara Krulwich/NYT|
Playwright Gretchen Law encapsulated Gregory’s extraordinary contribution to our nation’s conscience and comedy in a brief play (deftly performed on a practical, single set designed by Chris Barreca and lit by Stephen Strawbridge) with just two actors: Mr. Morton giving a bravura performance as Mr. Gregory, and John Carlin doing captivating and imaginative work as a 60s stand-up comic, a heckler, a cabbie, and a radio interviewer, among others. John Gould Rubin directs so that not a moment of raw, scathing wit is lost, nor is a moment of warmth for the man himself.
Every scene was engaging and thought provoking, every drop of sweat off Mr. Morton’s face endearing.
The Westside Theatre’s downstairs performance space was an excellent venue for this penetrating production and I hope the play returns here or to another incarnation in an equally intimate space so those who missed this limited run might catch it next time around.
Not only a fine evening of theatre at The Westside Theatre, but Dick Cavett was sitting in the row ahead of me! Keep an eye out for a return or revival of Turn Me Loose.
~ Molly Matera, signing off to read a little not ancient enough history