Imagine if the Rude Mechs had a love child with Taylor Mac (or Daniel Alexander Jones), and then named Young Jean Lee the godmother. You might find him crawling around Dallas theater today introducing himself as Brigham Mosley.
Of course, you won't need to know the cultural lineage of Mosley's new play, Vultures, to recognize its magic. The Southern Methodist University graduate, who recently returned to Dallas after five years in New York City, has created a monologue-driven piece that needles the contemporary zeitgeist, currently onstage at The Basement Gallery through Monday.
Vultures contains a collage of characters gathered in the theater to witness a solo performance piece by a young woman named Anon (Afomia Hailemeskel). The Performance Artist (capital "P," capital "A") plans to debut her new show, "Anon and On and On," which she raised funds for via Kickstarter. Of course, that's not at all what happens. Instead her play is interrupted by a pair of lesbians, played by Sarah Hamilton and Kristen Kelso, who speak in unison and worry they've only met and fallen in love out of narcissism. One worries that the relationship might not be challenging enough.
When the show continues, Anon launches into a monologue about growing up black, and the semiotics of calling someone "colored." With prolonged eye contact, she unintentionally encourages audience participation from Deniece (Lauren Mishoe), who eventually delivers a diatribe on the subjects of guilt and the nature of sin. But the interruption that unravels the basis of the show is the appearance of her white twin brother (Greg Bussell). There was an accident at the sperm bank. Turns out, Anon was raised as the in vitro offspring of white Connecticut suburbanites. For the audience, this completely trivializes her performance and the rest of Vultures is a denigration of Anon and her ability to narrate her own story.
Who the play's title is referring to becomes increasingly obvious, as the performed "audience" begins to circle and close in on Anon, whose story they pounce on, demanding she stop calling herself "black."
"I wanted to ask the question, Who's allowed to claim identity and who's allowed to give another person identity?" says Mosley. For Mosley, this play functions as a contemporary critique of what he calls "empathy vultures."
The germ of an idea for a piece arrived at the vigil he attended for a gay man who had been murdered. He describes a scene in which speakers took the pulpit to push their own agendas or promote their blogs. He says it all seemed so absurd to stand in the audience with the family of the victim, and not be talking about the specific loss at hand. Witnessing that he was struck by the way we've sidestepped the humanity and turned everything into an issue.
"I think it's terrible that we ask people to care about every single thing. Not every one should have to care about water and global warming and poverty. People aren't big enough," says Mosley. "We should care about individuals, about people."
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In Vultures, Mosley maps out this idea in a familiar, but absurdist setting. The thin line between the performers and the audience brings the theatrical into a more tangible reality, a style Mosley has used since college, but refined in NYC where he performed at the likes of PS122, La MaMa ETC, Dixon Place, and The New Museum.
"[Vultures] is performed in the wholehearted lineage of cabaret and queer theater," says Mosley. "I've always been interested in revealing the wires and the gears of theater, but I like to invite people into what's happening on stage without giving them the responsibility or the pressure of participation."
For Mosley, Vultures doesn't just mark a return to Dallas, but a new interest in turning his penchant for solo shows into multi-character pieces. And lucky for audiences, he has performances lined up almost monthly through August.
See Vultures, directed by Chris McCreary, at 9 p.m. Friday, Saturday or Monday at The Basement Gallery, 115 S. Beckley Ave. Tickets are $10 at the door.