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‘Pink’ reveals life of an Oakland drag queen circa 1989

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From left, Charles Peoples III and Maurice André San-Chez are excellent in “The Legend of Pink.” (Courtesy David Wilson)
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Kheven LaGrone’s world–premiere dramedy “The Legend of Pink” showcases life in one of Oakland’s not-so-respectable neighborhoods in 1989.

Judging by the enthusiastic audience’s lively reactions on Saturday’s opening night of the Theatre Rhinoceros production in San Francisco, LaGrone got stuff right about the trials and tribulations of his protagonists: Pink, a glamorous, transgender party gal living in the basement of a crack house in Oakland, and DeShawn, a questioning college kid from San Francisco who makes his way across to the Bay to a “club with black people.”

Directed sensitively by Oakland-based AeJay Mitchell, the terrific cast imbues all shades of emotion into all of the sympathetic characters.

Charles Peoples III is mesmerizing and commanding as the title character, filling Pink’s flouncy mini dresses with confidence and authority, even planning to write a book about fashion and change her circumstances. Pronouncing “Sometimes I think in French” and “White people don’t control my life,” she’s alluring to the troubled DeShawn, who has changed his name from Bradford.

Maurice Andre San-Chez convincingly brings to light his character’s conflicts at a point of transition. Having grown up in a white community, taunted and being told he was “a good black, not a real one,” he’s ready to drop the mask he wore trying to fit in.

Not only does he connect with Pink, whom he believes is a prostitute, he goes wild, declaring his blackness, donning his favorite color red and dashiki attire, declaring how he’s at last going to be himself.

But things are in the way of their progress: Pink’s lover Ace (a compelling, tough R. Shawntez Jackson) is not thrilled about the arrival of DeShawn, with his flashy clothes and Mercedes.

And voice-of the neighborhood Nikki (a funny, no-nonsense Phaedra Tiller) points out realities of the situation, telling Pink, “You’re more of a man than [Ace] ever could possibly be” and warning that DeShawn is a suspicious, unwelcome outsider in their world where drug dealers have the upper hand.

Scenic designer Bert vanAaslburg and costume designer Kitty Muntzel capture the era with lots of pink and panache (Pink’s underground bedroom is the primary setting) and sound designer Sarah Gasser had folks in the audience singing along to Whitney Houston at set changes opening night.

In “The Legend of Pink,” LaGrone has created an appealing study of authentic characters in difficult situations with inner conflicts, whose plights play out with a slightly incredible simplicity.

Perhaps their stories could be more powerful with a more vivid physical depiction of their neighborhood antagonists, which might bring real world complexities into greater focus.

REVIEW

The Legend of Pink
Presented by Theatre Rhinoceros
Where: Gateway Theatre, 215 Jackson St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; closes Sept. 30
Tickets: $20 to $40
Contact: www.brownpapertickets.com, www.therhino.org

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