By William Wolf

TURN ME LOOSE  Send This Review to a Friend

Joe Morton is a splendid actor, proven once again with his spot-on portrait of the noted comedian and activist Dick Gregory. Morton becomes Gregory before our eyes after a standup opening routine of corny jokes by John Carlin, as might happen in a nightclub. The script by Gretchen Law mixes material from Gregory’s actual performing and biographical information, and, in this show directed by John Gould Rubin, Morton slips back and forth between club work and behind the scenes talk keyed to his life story. It is a smooth-as-silk performance-- moving, hilarious and politically razor-sharp.

Given Gregory’s acute observations about racism, including the restriction of voting rights and disrespectful treatment, the show is acutely topical. Often when he elaborated on a truth about our society at the performance that I attended, I heard murmurs of “that’s right!” “uh-huh!” and “yes!” from engrossed members of the audience.

Like the person he is channeling, Morton has excellent timing and knows how to appeal to his attendees. He is amusing making short work of hecklers (Carlin plays one), and he effectively communicates the Gregory wit. I recalled having once heard Gregory explain that he titled a book of his the N word, because that way every time someone used the epithet, it would be a plug for his book. Morton gets a big laugh repeating that explanation in the show.

He also gets a laugh when he cites Michael Jackson as a reason why America is such a great country. He asks, “Where else could a young black man grow up to be white?”

There is an impressive moment when he wrestles with his handling of an offer from Jack Paar to be on his television show, an invitation he rejects at first and then berates himself for having turned down the career-boosting opportuniy. His gripe: black performers are never invited to sit on the couch and chat with Paar after doing their act. He agrees to on the show only after Paar phones to meet his couch terms.

The evening is both entertaining and meaningful, with laughs galore that reveal so much about our society then and now. Gregory, at 83, is still flashing his wit in interviews. Just go on YouTube. But for live enjoyment and wisdom you’ll do well to meet the star via Joe Morton in “Turn Me Loose.”At The West Side Theatre, 407 West 43rd Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed May 20, 2016.


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