Humorous `Bandit' embraces all races

Hidary's admiration of other cultures is evident during her one-woman show

Theater Review

March 09, 2006|By J. WYNN ROUSUCK | J. WYNN ROUSUCK,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Culture Bandit is Vanessa Hidary's self-portrait of the artist as a racially envious young woman.

Growing up Jewish in a mixed section of New York's Upper West Side, Hidary finds herself drawn to the Hispanic and African-American cultures of her friends and classmates. She is, in her own words, "young, gifted and bat mitzvahed," at the same time that she's a fan of salsa, pork and Michael Jackson.

A veteran of HBO's Def Poetry Jam and a grand slam finalist at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, Hidary tells her story in the form of a series of spoken-word riffs, directed by Mariana Hellmund.

But try though she might to appear tough and street smart - as she undoubtedly did in front of her peers - Hidary can't conceal an underlying sweetness and even charm.

Her one-woman show, at the Theatre Project, also contains a good deal of humor, beginning with the strains of Fiddler on the Roof that are intermingled with hip-hop. Later, she tells us that when she was denied a spot performing at a Kwanzaa festival, she decided she wanted to start "Def Hanukkah Jam."

Culture Bandit is only about an hour long, and it's not especially deep. Naysayers might take issue with Hidary's efforts to appropriate cultures that aren't her own. And the music, body language and speech patterns she takes on are mostly superficial.

But her admiration for the cultures she "steals" from is always evident. Indeed, Hidary offers a mini-model of race relations. She doesn't merely acknowledge differences, she emulates them - a one-woman example of the way differences can bring us together instead of tearing us apart.

Nor does Hidary shrink from depicting herself in an unflattering light. She admits she was an adult before she realized that "holocaust" wasn't a Jewish word. She also re-enacts a confrontation with a black separatist, who criticizes her for being a cultural dilettante. "Experiencing and understanding," he admonishes her, are "two different things."

She concludes with her best poem, a work punctuated with computer commands, which ends with her saying, "Send, send, send," with her arms outstretched. Culture Bandit may be too thin to be truly satisfying, but the joy with which Hidary embraces the "other" is refreshing.

j.wynn.rousuck@baltsun.com

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