Van Peebles' Orgasmic Play

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Melvin Van Peebles' Tony-nominated musical, “Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death,â€? is an orgy of self-reflection for some; a ravishment of discovery for others. 

Van Peebles takes his audience on a real life journey through a subliminal time machine, masterfully luring his unsuspecting subjects—the audience—into the regurgitating belly of the beast which is Black street life in the early 1970s. 

Van Peebles' take no prisoners approach tells it like it was. Talk about keepin' it real? So many people I know or have known were depicted in the hodgepodge of self-medicated, neurotic, larcenous, lost and desperate to be happy souls. I even saw myself prancing around in the mix every now and again. Essentially, while engaging his subjects—again, audience—in a thrilling succession of explosive events, Van Peebles jolted a raging sea of emotion within us that, at the very least, compelled the question, “Is this for real?â€? The answer is unequivocally, “Yes.â€? 

Under the brilliant direction of Alfred Preisser, “Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death,� a mandatory classic, is a journey through history that titillates all seven senses with its riveting but poignant testimony of the effect poverty and strife can have on a people, and the creative yet self-destructive ways they adopt in an effort to cope. First introduced to the stage in 1971, “Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death,� ran for 325 performances and received seven Tony Award nominations. In that same year, Van Peebles outdid himself with his own revolutionary movie, “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.�

Just as relevant today, “Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death,� is a raw and somewhat maniacal account of a people who create their own illusions of happiness through sex, alcohol and partying—while staying alive by any means necessary.

Mo Brown brought down the house with her arousing rendition of a 70s Go-Go Girl named Lily. The beautiful Mo Brown's sexy and vivacious moves were so hot that Halle Berry could have walked in butt naked and nobody would have noticed. Neil Dawson masterfully steals your heart as the deprived, psychologically challenged, hyperactive drag queen, Funky Girl. Tracy Jack's inspired performance as the love struck lesbian was heartfelt. Willie Teacher is a powerful and intense artist. His years of experience and passion for the arts are evident.  I look forward to seeing a lot more of him.

In fact, stay on the lookout for Willie Teacher.  He's in two films due for release this year, “The Visiting,â€? with Nicole Kidman and “Invincible,â€? with Mark Wahlberg and Greg Kenear.  Glenn Turner's antics as the abrasive, self-justified drunk, is hilarious. Chudney Sykes will steal your heart.  It is amazing how she captivates the audience without uttering a word. James Christopher Tolbert did a magnificent job with his spine-tingling performance. Kimberlee Monroe's captivating performance as the morbid and bitter bag lady was thought-provoking and chilling. The entire cast was magnificent. Bravo to the entire cast and crew!

I would be remiss if I didn't give honorable mention to the non-urban cultures in the audience whose assorted reactions of puzzlement, fear, bewilderment, pearl clutching, horror and bashfulness, provided an extra treat to this already zany experience. They were good sports and I applaud their graciousness.  

The music, also composed by Melvin Van Peebles and directed by William “Spacemanâ€? Patterson, was relevant and lively. The choreography was tight, energetic, authentic, fun and fabulous. Kimberly Glennon's dazzling costumes brought even more excitement and gaiety to the exhilarating production. 

Now, let's talk Van Peebles for a moment. There is so much life experience to the man.  For instance, besides the fact that he is a successful scholar, director, producer, writer, music composer, three-time Grammy nominee, Emmy award winner and Tony award nominee 11 times, he also taught himself French and went on to write French language novels.  He had five novels published—one of which became the basis of his first feature film, La Permission “The Story of a Three Day Pass,â€? which won the Critics' Choice Award at the 1967 San Francisco Film Festival. He also studied astronomy at the University of Amsterdam in Holland. 

Van Peeble’s famous 1971 classic, “Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song,� is considered a seminal work in American cinema. That's just the tip of the iceberg. Keep your eyes open for my one-on-one with the master, coming soon. I plan to get up close and personal.

But for now, I join the billions of fans and admirers all over the world who share the same perspective when Melvin Van Peebles comes to mind. One thing is for sure - he'll always be a Baadasssss!

Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death is on fire every Friday and Saturday night at T New York located at 240 West 52nd Street, Manhattan. For tickets or information, visit or call 212-352-3101. Van Peebles won a Black Star News Lifetime achievement in cinema award and accepted it on May 26 at a Gala reception at the Puck building. The editors of The Black Star are convinced many more awards await this legend.

Brenda Jeanne Wyche, Advocate for Solutions and Results ©2006, is Special Correspondent for The Black Star News and CEO of Winning Strategies & Associates, a public relations company in New York City. Contact

To subscribe to or advertise in The Black Star News, New York’s leading investigative newspaper please call (212) 481-7745.

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