While I Yet Live OFF-BROADWAY REVIEWS

Photo: James Leynse
  • NY TIMES

  • HR

  • EW

  • TM

  • NEWSDAY

Opening Night:
October 12, 2014
Closing:
October 31, 2014

Theater: Duke on 42nd Street / 229 West 42nd Street, New York, NY, 10036

Synopsis: 

The Tony-winning star of Kinky Boots and Angels in America premieres a new work about coming of age in Pittsburgh amongst a bevy of fascinating and strong-willed women. Tony nominee Sheryl Kaller (Mothers and Sons, Next FallAdrift in Macao) directs this exciting new play.

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  • NEW YORK TIMES REVIEW OF While I Yet Live

    A Son Poised to Say Goodbye, and Other Family Confrontations

    Charles Isherwood

    October 12, 2014: “I love the Lord, I ain’t shamed,” says Maxine, the loving mother and wife at the center of While I Yet Live, a loosely autobiographical play by the actor Billy Porter that opened on Sunday night at the Duke on 42nd Street. Portrayed with lovely grace and a spine of steel by S. Epatha Merkerson, Maxine finds her faith sorely tested in the course of Mr. Porter’s succulent family drama, presented by Primary Stages. As the play opens, Maxine is trading gossip about church doings while tending to her best friend, Eva (Sharon Washington), who’s suffering from cancer. They are upstairs in Maxine’s home, and she’s ignoring the braying calls from her Aunt Delores (Elain Graham) to come down and help prepare dinner. A further distraction explodes into the room when Maxine’s 17-year-old son, Calvin (Larry Powell), bursts in, bringing with him a handful of carefully coiffured wigs for Eva to choose from. There is also one atop his head, a sporty Afro that causes Maxine to smolder with anger and insist he remove it.

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  • HOLLYWOOD REPORTER REVIEW OF While I Yet Live

    ony-winning stage actor Billy Porter makes his playwriting debut with this autobiographical family drama

    Frank Scheck

    October 12, 2014: Billy Porter has long been known for his exuberantly over-the-top stage performances, the most recent being his Tony Award-winning turn in the hit Broadway musical Kinky Boots. The actor applies the same florid technique to his playwriting debut, While I Yet Live, a wildly overstuffed kitchen-sink drama that feels like it was shaped over decades of intense therapy sessions. One can only hope that it's not as autobiographical as it's purported to be, since the litany of family dysfunctions on display is enough to have fueled a dozen episodes of The Oprah Winfrey Show. Set over the course of fourteen years — from 1994 to 2008 — in the playwright's native Pittsburgh, the drama receives its world premiere from Off-Broadway's Primary Stages. It revolves around Porter's alter-ego Calvin (Larry Powell), whose homosexuality is deeply disturbing to his religious, physically handicapped mother Maxine (Law & Order veteran S. Epatha Merkerson).

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  • ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY REVIEW OF While I Yet Live

    While I Yet Live Review

    Melissa Rose Bernardo

    October 12, 2014: If plays were judged on emotion and intent alone, Billy Porter's While I Yet Live would be a smash hit. The Tony-winning actor-singer—who's still knocking 'em dead as Lola, the drag queen with the most fabulous footwear on Broadway, in Kinky Boots—opens his heart for this semiautobiographical drama. And he pours it all out on stage at Off Broadway's Duke on 42nd Street: a stepfather's sexual abuse; his mother's degenerating cerebral palsy-like illness; and her fierce devotion to her faith, inextricably entwined with her very slow struggle to understand and accept that her son is gay and ''God made [him] this way.'' He pours out all that and more in the play, which takes its title from a gospel song (''Give me my flowers while I yet live...I'd rather have just one tulip right now than a truckload of roses when I'm dead''). There are Bible verses, dead relatives, Thanksgiving dinners; I'd say everything but the kitchen sink but that's there as well. Is While I Yet Live a dysfunctional family drama? A coming-of-age tale? A confessional? D: all of the above.  

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  • THEATERMANIA REVIEW OF While I Yet Live

    Family drama is on the menu as Tony winner Billy Porter invites us into his childhood home in Pittsburgh

    Zachary Stewart

    October 12, 2014: Sometimes it's refreshing when an author lets the drama hang out, rather than hiding it behind clever subtext and furtive glances. That's certainly the case with While I Yet Live, now making its world premiere with Primary Stages at the Duke on 42nd Street. Billy Porter (the Tony-winning star of Broadway's Kinky Boots) penned this semiautobiographical tale of a Pentecostal black family in Pittsburgh as a love letter to the strong women in his life. Like most love letters, it has a tendency to wax poetic and verge on maudlin. But it is never boring. While I Yet Live is the kind of fascinating mess that makes not-entirely-clear storylines and tangential monologues forgivable. You simply can't turn your eyes away. Calvin (Larry Powell) is a young gay black man living with several generations of his family in a big house in Pittsburgh. There's his grandmother Gertrude (Lillias White), Gertrude's sister Delores (Elain Graham), Calvin's sister Tonya (Sheria Irving), and their mother, Maxine (S. Epatha Merkerson). Additionally, the family has a couple of long-term houseguests: Maxine's best friend Eva (Sharon Washington), who is suffering from a terminal illness (AIDS is strongly suggested) and the mysterious war veteran Uncle Arthur (portrayed by an uncredited arm behind a door) who hides in his room all day watching Sanford and Son. Calvin's stepfather Vernon (Kevyn Morrow) is the "man of the house," much to the dismay of the increasingly rebellious Calvin. It's Thanksgiving Day 1994, and this delicate ecosystem is on the verge of collapse.

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  • NEWSDAY REVIEW OF While I Yet Live

    'While I Yet Live': Contradictions galore

    Linda Winer

    October 10, 2014: Billy Porter, who won every award the theater can give for his star turn as Lola in Kinky Boots, has some stories to tell about his life. How we wish he had decided which one or two to tell. While I Yet Live, an autobiographical serious comedy he has been working on for years, has so many back-stories and changes of tone that his big rich cast -- including the wondrous S. Epatha Merkerson as the mother -- seems whiplashed from the contradictions. This is a memory play about growing up gay, black and Christian in a Pittsburgh home dominated by lots of strong, vibrant, scripture-quoting women. There is also a man there, his stepfather, who sexually abused the boy for years. And maybe, just maybe, his mother, born with a mysterious degenerative palsy, knew it.

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