J.DCerna 2

Not As Cute As Picture

 Duplex Cabaret Theatre



Full disclosure: This show was extended several times to sold out houses at The Duplex Cabaret Theatre several months ago.It returns later this year. Few shows are as entertaining, insightful or profound based on the powerful writings and epic performance of J.D. Cerna. With apologies for the long delay, here is what this observer thought. 


Sometimes, it takes a village. Sometimes, it takes a wounded genius. Enter J.D.Cerna.
Making noise with a recent series of one-man shows at The Duplex is J.D. Cerna appearing in Not As Cute As Picture. In doing so, the multi-talented actor rode an emotional roller coaster non pareill. In his quest to tell the story of one year in his life and find his piece of sky, the GLAAD-Media Award nominee, was so successful, all extended shows sold out quickly. It was a bravura turn worthy of much more attention. It's that good. He's that good. It was also an epiphany channeled through one who lived this frenzied journey filled with misfits all disguised as real life. Fusing this mess into a cohesive play is impressive and exposes Cerna as a force to be reckoned with. He is a truth teller. More of this is needed amid the vanity shows that clutter cabaret stages.

Drawing from a grab bag of characters who crossed his path that year, Cerna portrayed milestones in his wild life during this eye-opening period. He had a lot to say. Instead of genuflecting about past regrets or throwing a pity party, he wrote a solid show that defiantly relived the absurdities of his life as he worked at “survival jobs.” Cerna focused on some ner'er do well and bizarre characters. Along the way, he unearthed the neurotic histrionics that engulfed him as he tried to make waves – especially on the high seas. In doing so, he emerged a survivor. His struggles reveal a bevy of images as he clawed through it all with the cunning of a lion stalking its prey. To his credit, he ingeniously turned it all into a laugh riot! At times, his powerhouse acting showed moments of genius. His in-depth honesty recalled John Leguizamo - and Lily Tomlin – also searing truth tellers who use humor. Cerna portrayed his pain through laughter. Few artists would bear such brutal honesty on an intimate stage. The fact is that truth is his imperative. Acting is his conduit. His writing reveals a seamless commitment to the acceptance that leads to freedom. At times, the always kinetic Cerna displayed exceptional energy as he segued from one outrageous character to another. At rare times, he revealed a vulnerability that was trenchant. More of this might be welcome in such a fast-moving play with so many highly charged characters. Ultimately, it makes for compelling theatre by one who is in touch with himself and his past.

 This complex tale all unfolds through spitfire vignettes revolving around events during Cerna's 29th year. Frustrated after many auditions and rejections, he accepts a cruise ship jaunt that has him working with other frustrated actors. Replete with timely house music, the piece opens frenetically and rarely slows down with Cerna portraying these biting vagabonds – of which he was one. There is also a crucial underpinning chronicling the AIDS crisis of the day. This is mainly done through letters and long distance phone conversations with a former lover/best friend who is ailing. Initially, he is in denial about what is happening to his friend. These flighty chats play a pivotal role in understanding the grit that caused an epiphany and what Cerna is made of. Initially frivolous, the calls evolve into something frighteningly sobering. They are a reminder of the shallowness of the people inhabiting his own shallow life. Among those malignant characters is a Latin drama queen acting out his bitchy persona working with Cerna as a waiter. An annoying buffoon, he is also quite real. This character embodies the hollow world Cerna is embedded in. Along the way, on the cruise gig, he inadvertently spots his photo on the desk of the entertainment director. On the back is coldly scribbled, “not as cute as picture...” This smack in the face marks the beginning of a turning point on which the play is rooted. Too, he encounters an older, wealthy gay man. Here, once again, Cerna's honesty is brutal – with no apologies.

 The effectiveness of the aforementioned relies on the strength Cerna brings to his powerful and poignant performance. Such honesty is not always pretty. But it is that honesty that is the centerpiece of his exceptional writing. Sex plays a dominant role throughout. More honesty. The work unfolded as a portrait of a part of gay life that all audiences can relate to. We all make mistakes. We all have known people with egg on their face. Cerna's finest moments unfold as he paints portraits of these misbegotten characters with such brutal integrity. He takes no prisoners. He opens wounds and exposes mixed feelings with ease. Such feelings range from lofty egoism, intense insecurity to lower points where he opens a floodgate of emotions allowing the audience to look beyond his most personal thoughts through a salty mix of lost souls sprinkled in the New York bar scene of the 90s, the cruise ship, a Florida fling, a gig in Hollywood and his foray into hustling.

Bad breaks. Bad decisions. Heartbreak. It's all there. Told with an explosive humor – and honesty that is as raw as high voltage nerve gas. J.D.Cerna does a masterful job of acting and writing an epic piece that deserves to be seen by a wider audience. Do not miss this play that became a cult classic from day one.

(The show is returns in the fall at a venue to be announced.)

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