Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Billy Porter's Autobiographical Play Gets Mixed Reviews

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Billy Porter's Autobiographical Play Gets Mixed Reviews

Article excerpt

Billy Porter's semiautobiographical play "While I Yet Live," about growing up gay, abused and resilient in a deeply religious Pittsburgh family, ended its world-premiere run Friday at Primary Stages, an off-Broadway theater.

The play by the Tony-winning actor of "Kinky Boots" featured Emmy-winning actress S. Epatha Merkerson as Maxine, based on Mr. Porter's mother, a Pentecostal minister who struggles to accept her son. Tony-winner Lillias White portrayed Maxine's mother Gertrude, the family matriarch who has a few secrets of her own. Larry Powell played Calvin, the young man living with several generations of strong women in Pittsburgh.

"This play is a love letter to my mother, my sister and the women who raised me," Mr. Porter said in an introductory statement about "While I Yet Live." "Reflecting on my own life experience as a gay, black, Christian man and survivor of abuse, I wanted to write a play that was about family, faith and the healing power of forgiveness, three things very necessary to move forward and make change in your life. Change is possible, but it takes patience."

Mr. Porter has appeared with both Ms. Merkerson and Ms. White in stage productions and considered them naturals for the roles. "They're my guardians away from home, my mamas, my sisters, my girlfriends," he told Playbill. Sheria King, as Calvin's sister Tonya, has been universally praised by critics as a spark plug who ages from 12 to 26 without missing a beat.

Here's what critics had to say about "While I Yet Live":

* "Mr. Porter's writing, while often gritty and truthful, sometimes falls into more glib modes ... But the uniformly fine performances, and the smooth direction of Sheryl Kaller ("Next Fall"), help guide us past the occasional blemish and connect to the play's affecting depiction of a family of three generations enduring, as best it can, the storms that life never fails to supply. …

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