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Theater Review : 'Fun Stories' Gets Polished Updating : Pomo Afro Homos ably recycles its 'Fierce Love,' but the punch lines still work for the fans.

August 20, 1994|DON SHIRLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The title of the Pomo Afro Homos show at Highways, "More Fabulous Fun Stories," is a bit misleading. Not the "Fabulous Fun" part, but the "More."

Inside the program, a note under the title explains this is "an updated version of the award-winning show 'Fierce Love: Stories From Black Gay Life.' " In other words, if you saw "Fierce Love" at Highways in 1991, as some of the group's fans surely did, this show is more or less the same thing.

Of course, most fans won't care. Even if they've heard the punch lines, they can appreciate anew the artistry with which they're delivered. This San Francisco-based trio is in splendid form, their performances utterly polished and assured and ready for prime time.

Befitting its title, "Fun Stories" is more of a comedy revue than the group's "Dark Fruit," seen here in 1992. The pieces here are generally shorter than in "Dark Fruit." A couple of them stop too soon, too abruptly.

The show is framed, at beginning and end, with a simple a cappella presentation, "We Are," which elegantly states the evening's purpose: to tell a few stories from black gay life--a culture that has undergone "centuries of silence, milliseconds of sound."

Yet this isn't one of those noble but dull evenings where a previously underrepresented group accentuates only the positive. The characters in this show aren't always exemplary, but they're almost always alive and vital.

They cover a wide range. In the first three sketches alone, we visit the "Queer Value Channel" shopping network (the ending of this one has changed since "Fierce Love"), a blue-collar married man who gets a little gay action on the side but denies that it matters, and an opera queen who's suddenly confronted with a vision of his African roots.

Brian Freeman, one of the performers as well as the evening's director, makes a remarkable transformation from that blue-collar guy to what looks like a more autobiographical solo, "Sad Young Man," in which he relates a childhood inside a Model New Negro Family, a youth devoted to longing for Johnny Mathis, and college years in which he came out.

"Red Bandannas" is an unorthodox but persuasive rap. "Good Hands" is an erotic solo from the back room of a club, sizzlingly performed by Eric Gupton. Tired of being the bridesmaid but never the bride? Join "The Just Us Club"--a funny trio in drag.

"Black Like Me" and a dramatized excerpt from James Baldwin are two of the pieces that don't seem quite finished, but Djola Bernard Branner's reminiscence of a friend's funeral and Freeman's "metal" dude's odyssey through gay night life in San Francisco provide an invigorating conclusion.

* "More Fabulous Fun Stories," Highways, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica. Tonight and Sunday, 8:30 p.m. $12-$15. (213) 660-8587. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.

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