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‘Turn Me Loose’ pays homage to Dick Gregory | Champagne and Reception, Friday, October 12

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The heckling is raw in “Turn Me Loose,” and you can get in on it if you dare. Edwin Lee Gibson plays comedian Dick Gregory in this biographical drama of the comedian/activist, who died last year at the age of 84, and true to Gregory’s form, the joking gets serious. You want to call him something? He invites the audience to stand up in the light and do it.

It’s a stark moment, and reflective of the combative tone that saturates Gretchen Law’s 90-minute drama at Arena Stage. Gregory’s life and career were indelibly shaped by the civil rights era; he knew the breakthroughs of getting attention on late-night talk shows (and playing hardball to land the gig on dignified terms), and he lived through the setbacks of murders and assassinations. The show draws plenty of laughs with jokes that still sting: a long story about moving into a white neighborhood, cutting his lawn and being mistaken for “help” that culminates in a racy punchline too explosively funny to spoil here.

But Dick Gregory knew, and Law underlines, that at some point it’s just not funny anymore.

“Do you want to be funny?” Gregory is asked at one point during an interview. The answer comes slow, and it drives the point home.

Bio-dramas can be hero worship, and Law’s script — fully titled “A Play About Comic Genius Dick Gregory” — does not break the mold. (The play premiered when Gregory was alive, and the extensive producing credits for this show include John Legend.) Director John Gould Rubin sticks close to the comedy-club environment of Christopher Barreca’s showbizzy set as the stream-of-consciousness scenes hit the high points of Gregory’s life.

There’s Gregory in the early 1960s, a hip-looking young man cracking savvy jokes, cradling a cocktail and a cigarette, getting a gig in front of Southerners at the Playboy Club. There’s Gregory in later years, an aged sage wagging his finger at us about the conspiracies we just won’t get wise to, from food (he evangelized for a strict vegetarian diet) to undying American racism.

View feature by By Nelson Pressley @ The Washington Post HERE

Best Buy Co, Inc.

Turn Me Loose September 6 – October 14

Get tickets  for the Friday, October 12 show and champagne reception @ http://bit.ly/tml-payment

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