Press

REVIEWS for SWEET TEA

“The device of alternating the stories works very well here, as each man has something moving (and sometimes painful) to tell, and Johnson is skilled at quickly creating the varied characters. Each vignette allows him to go further into the next chapter of his own story, as if the others’ lives were beaming a raking sidelight on his. Perhaps the most wonderful thing about Sweet Tea is that the artist has achieved the near impossible: His stories of self do not scream ‘me me me,’ but rather sing of an us that is rarely seen or lauded. As he said after the show, ‘the best autobiographical work is work that opens out.'”

— Indy Week (Durham, NC), February 19, 2014

“[Johnson] has a poised delivery and can plunge himself into moments of lively theatricality — during the show he sings gospel, executes an infectious ring shout and, in a particularly enjoyable scene, channels the tambourine-waving exuberance of an eccentric pastor. […] The show trains its eye far beyond any specific veranda. In one of the play’s particularly moving lines, Gerome, the tambourine-shaking pastor, explains that he has turned his back on narrow perspectives and learned to see creation “as a whole picture.” “Sweet Tea” invites us to gaze at that picture, too.”

— The Washington Post, September 20, 2011

**** 4 stars “Based on his award-winning and critically acclaimed book of the same name, Johnson takes a risk and plunges head first into the difficult subject matter of gay Black men living in southern states. This one-man show answers the questions many are afraid to ask. Told through the words of several gay Black men, the play examines the triumphs, disappointments, perceptions and hardships of living a life still frowned upon today by a large population.”

— MD Theatre Guide, September 2011

“Johnson has an infectious energy and is frequently hilarious, whether embodying a cross dresser doing his best Patti LaBelle impersonation or a college student recounting the numerous athletes he’s slept with. Johnson has an easy rapport with the audience, who laugh along as Johnson jokes and interacts with them. Sweet Tea may not be afraid to tackle heavy territory, but Johnson is most irresistible during the show’s lighter moments.”

–Washingtonian, September 20, 2011

REVIEWS for POURING TEA

“Johnson … manages to vividly evoke the presence of seven individuals. The enactment of their stories of growing up black and gay in the South, as ‘co-performatively interpreted’ (Johnson’s phrase) by an openly black gay man born in the South, constitutes a profound critique of racism, sexism, and homophobia in our culture. Their stories are painful, poignant, funny, and triumphant. Storytellers recall physical and sexual abuse, poverty, the fear of being unwanted; fear of damnation and hell, thoughts of suicide. Humor, however, pervades even the most painful of memories. Bursts of laughter accompanied Michael’s memories of reactions to his sexuality from his homophobic family, particularly his recollection of his father’s attempt to cut his newly permed bangs with a pair of hedge clippers. The audience responded similarly when the soft-spoken Freddie recalls ‘carrying a single edge razor blade … to sharpen pencils,’ and cutting a bully in order to gain a measure of respect as a ‘mean little sissy.’”

— Cheryl Black, Associate Professor, Department of Theatre, University of Missouri, in Thrice-Told Tales: Pouring Tea as Performance Ethnography,”  Storytelling, Self, Society: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Storytelling Studies, Volume 8, Issue 1, 2012

“In what were often both uproariously funny and tragically emotional performances, Johnson gave his audience a unique taste of what it means and what it might feel like to experience the particular hardships facing southern gay black men.  His readings exemplified the affective power of performance on rights-bearing discourse – a medium that simultaneously enriches and informs public knowledge of minority experiences.

Beating his tambourine in the dimly lit dance studio of Rice’s Gibbs Recreation Center, Johnson entered the performance space singing a spiritually flavored tune while four hundred hands clapped with him.  Once seated on stage, he went through visible bodily changes as he altered his vocal styling, posture, and expressions from his own role as interviewer to those of the respondents.  The audience chuckled, belly-laughed, and reacted emotionally to Johnson’s stories – it was as if we were in the room with him as he interviewed these men – as if he were not simply himself, but a doubled, tripled, even quadrupled soul with as many elations, phobias, and tragedies as his real characters.  Johnson’s performance reminded everyone in attendance that the stories of one southern gay black man are the stories of all southern gay black men, of all men, and that they are indeed the stories of us all.”

— Rice University Center for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, 2011

“[T]he audience …gave Johnson a standing ovation at the end of his performance. Adrian Evans ’15 commented, ‘I liked how good of an actor he was. I thought his accents were on point.’ She added, ‘It was cool that he was doing it about the South where I (personally) know a lot of people who are repressed. That stuff definitely goes on.’ Leah Miller ’14 said, ‘It was really impressive that he took the time to learn their stories and their accents. It went from really touching to really horrifying at times. I thought it was really well done.’

Though many of the segments were funny, all of them dealt with some component of internal or external distress—each person had to reconcile with being gay in a community that would not accept them. As one interviewee said, ‘We don’t hate gay people. We hate people we think are gay.’ Repression and denial were common themes, detailing how people changed—or ‘tailored’, as Stephen said—themselves to become more socially acceptable.

AIDS was another prevalent issue: Dinaux talked about how ‘lying was death in the African American community’, because no one wanted to admit they were gay and had AIDS, and Duncan T. claimed that ‘they have not recognized it as a problem.’ Other interviews dealt with the issue of homosexuality and the church; for one segment, Johnson wore a choir robe and sang a gospel song. In another, Chaz Chastity accused people of hiding behind the church rather than ‘seeking a personal relationship with God.’

Despite the struggles, each monologue ended with a hopeful message; as Duncan finished, ‘I have no regrets, for you see, I am black. I am gay. I am the South.'”

— Meri St. Jean,  “Writer Gives Voice to Gay Black Men” The Dickinsonian, February 29, 2012