Personal Sidebar:

Madea with fag in hand

In all her glory?

My mother (thankfully, no Madea), who has sacrificed for and supported my interest in the performing arts since my early childhood, first in community and then college theatre, is quite proud of my current career in the arts. Yet some years ago, she forced me to watch her friend’s bootleg VHS of one of Perry’s first plays. And let me tell you, it was hell! A four-hour horror. I kept asking to be excused and–just like a pusher–she kept saying, just do a little more. I was dying slowly. And, much to her chagrin, no Madea addiction has taken root.



In fact, no theatre or film experience has been as painful as that and, oh, A.I. There was this one-woman show, though…

Everything I had understood to be sacrosanct about theatre was violated including, but not limited to: breaking character, irrational plot arc, inappropriate song placement without setting the stage for a musical, excess-

TP red

Only half as infamous as his alter ego

ive  and hammy improvisation, etc. And so my first and only instinct was to dismiss Perry’s work as just plain bad. Another riff on the Mama-I-Can-Sing-and-Jesus-Will-Work-it-Out theme. Bad, but avoidable.

Fast forward to now. My mother, currently is obsessed with Why Did I get Married (the movie, not the movie of the play and without a Madea neck roll in sight) on DVD, on Demand, and whenever it’s actually scheduled to play on cable and/or network television. Sometimes concurrently.

Mom’s favorite scene

My mother loves Tyler Perry’s work and I do not. She and I are having, either the generational disconnect, or the “too much fancy schooling” rift, but, clearly, Houston, we have a problem. We have an ongoing conversation about his work and my frustrations with him remixing stereotypes (whether the Madea character’s featured or not) that have haunted black folk since minstrelsy. No matter how funny Perry or anyone else says it is, it’s still stereotyping. And, in my humble opinion, theatrically, there’s got to be another way. My scholarly pursuits have found me struggling to find a diasporatic “African” origin to his approach. Outside of connecting the weak writing and commedia dell’arte-esque stock characters/stereotypes to the Nollywood phenomena of Nigeria and the work of the Blue Mountain Theatre group that tours the “tripe circuit” of England, I’ve had little luck. But I do have hope, however, like the antidrug crusaders, that the Tyler Perry genre is the marijuana of theatre and, “therefore,” a gateway drug that will get people in the doors of other legitimate [sic] theatre spaces. There I said it. Legitimate–no Madea, though.