New Rep's "Our Lady": It Gets Bitter

James Fluhr in "Our Lady"
(photo: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures)

“Our Lady”, an intensely moving presentation of performance art now at New Rep in Watertown , is the creation of one James Fluhr, who conceived it, wrote the piece, and performs it. He even provided (with Courtney Nelson) the wonderful Scenic Design. If popcorn were being sold in the lobby, one suspects this multi-talented wunderkind would be out there popping. And “out there” he certainly is, in several meanings of the term, for this is an extraordinarily personal (as in autobiographical) self-described “fairy story” of one young gay man’s coming out. Asked to elaborate on his tale, he deemed it seductive, sparkling and stark, and it’s all of that. At ninety minutes with no intermission, it covers a remarkable bit of territory, with a journey by Fluhr (a recent graduate of Boston University) from his initial emergence to full-fledged and feathery defiance.

Along the way, Fluhr provides some terrific insights into the roles played in his development by his mother (a complex, truly nuanced Southern belle), his father (at first the object of his anger) and his late beloved lover Aspen. It’s a moving, often heartrending, progression, but the key to it all is how he accomplished it. The writing of this piece was the beginning of his road to inward and outer peace. To conquer the ignorance of “The Monster” that is the bigotry of his father and much of today’s world, he conjured up the power of “Our Lady of the Ashes”, rising up (and raising us up with her) like a phoenix, to heal and to hope. If at first his reaction is to get bitter (especially given the horrific reality of young gay suicides), Fluhr’s redemption in his own eyes as well as others starts with his admission that he still loves his father and remains proud of him despite his narrow-mindedness.

As fundamentally idiosyncratic as this work is, the play succeeds best when it transcends the personal and encompasses the greater world of being gay in a homophobic world. If the emphasis is first on the intimate look at one man’s fear of finding and fulfilling love, it morphs stunningly into a universal outcry for overcoming fears. It’s revelatory, as the current New Rep production, the second in a series of three plays (the others being “Tongue of a Bird” and “In Between”), as well as other play readings, that all together form the First Annual New Rep Black Box Festival. "Our Lady" is a promising continuation, due in large part to the contributions of Fluhr’s technical team, including the crucial Lighting Design by Dan Alaimo, fabulous Costume Design by Ameera Ali and Costume Construction by Chelsea Kerl, Sound Design by Yi-Chun “Iggy” Hung and mesmerizing Projection Design by Matthew Haber.

The greatest enemy of freedom is complacency; “Our Lady” raises us up from the comfortable to the confrontational. It’s a timely reminder, for those of us who live in a relatively liberal bubble (Saint Patrick’s Day parade ugliness aside) in our Commonwealth, that while much has been accomplished historically, much remains in the fight to gain the dignity and respect due all of us. Here we have an amazingly gifted actor and author to remind us once again: It gets better.

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