Inquiring minds have been clamoring for a taste of Erykah Badu‘s one-human show Live Nudity: Meditate On Deez – a production being staged in her hometown of Dallas that, like everything else she’s ever done, has begun to make waves far afield of the Lone Star State. Houstonians give Dallasians a hard time, it’s true. (Dallasenos? We’ve been told it’s Dallas-ites, but you can never trust a Dallasian.) DFW Airport isn’t close to anything, everyone wears Ed Hardy, but only at the bars with racist door policies, and they actually named a library after George Bush — supposedly the world’s largest library of coloring books. But, there are a few things, however, that Dallas can be proud of: one of the greatest football dynasties of all-time, Big Tex (when he’s not on fire), and the undisputed, undefeated, undercover, interstellar Q.U.E.E.N. Badulla Oblongotta. And tonight, we’re here for the Queen.
Badu’s performance of Live Nudity: Meditate on Deez took place on the Naomi Bruton Main Stage at The Black Academy of Arts and Letters (TBAAL), a 250,000 square foot with its own unique history, dedicated to the preservation of African-American Fine, Literary, and Performing Arts. Its founder, Curtis King, producer of the stage show, graduated from Tate County High School in Mississippi, earned his master’s degree in theater from Texas Christian University, and had previously worked with Badu before on 2009’s Hip Hop Broadway – The Musical, which King wrote and directed.
On Oct. 30, the NB Main Stage was cozy and inviting. A red light glows from behind the stage where an assortment of different chairs are placed, evenly-spaced, for each of the Badu’s characters. Sitting a few rows behind us, some white guy leans over to his friend and says, “I’ve been following Scientology for a long time… it encourages snitching, you know.”
It’s not a chronological telling of her life, or someone else’s, a la Ronald Keaton’s one-man Broadway show from earlier this year, Churchill, but you get the idea that the characters she plays are quite familiar to her. The play is billed as “Act One: ‘The Umbrella Won’t Open’” and “Act Two: ‘That Umbrella Won’t Help,’” and it is all improv, based on characters that have likely been living in Badu’s brain for years. The characters of Act I, introduced to us in a series of vignettes, include:
– The hallucinogen craving Badu who first emerges in one of those cool bubble chairs—the kind everyone wishes they had in their college dorm—puffing what can only be described as a Gandalf pipe, and lamenting about the wonders of DMT. Here, she drops a smooth Cannabinoids reference and mentions that it “makes people dream,” which is maybe a Jay Electronica reference?
“I feel so unnecessary,” Badu says as she sinks deep into the bubble chair. All of a sudden, a lava-like projection appears on the wall, “What in the fuck is that? I think it’s God, Jesus, or another white person!” she shouts. The audience collectively cracks up. From here on out, the audience will have an unwavering allegiance to Badu.
– The grandmother lounging in her recliner who finds a Shake Weight infomercial hilarious, and rants about kids and their cell phones—or “walkie talkies” as she calls them.
– The motivational speaker who leads a help seminar on chakras and brainwave frequencies; this is the most audience-involved of all her skits. Before the show, colored dots were randomly placed on the theater’s seats.
– “Red dots, please stand,” she announces, “Everyone take a look at the red dot people, these are the pedophiles.” The audience erupts with laughter and ooo’s. Some of the red dot people try to sit down, but they get called out. “Not the regular kind of pedophiles, the red dot people are pedophiles who romance baby animals. They want to hug them and cuddle them.”
– “Orange dot people, these are thieving motherfuckers,’ Badu affirms. “They love stealing shit like lighters, weed papers, and incense holders. Take a good look at these people.”
Act I also includes the performance of a number entitled, “Ode to the Office,” which finds Badu backed by a Sinatra-style samba, singing lines like, “It’s hard to be with you,” while “THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID” flashes on the screen behind her after each line. It’s the perfect blend of Badu’s mystifying voice and ever-youthful humor (this includes all the curse words Badu has never been afraid to use).
As we enter intermission, the screen informs us that “Two 7.5 minute intermissions will occur back to back,” while Sun Ra’s “Nuclear War” greets us. “What you gon’ do about yo’ ass?” Sun Ra sings as people make their way to the restroom. You just know Ms. Badu planned that one.
And unlike other one-human stage plays, Badu often engages with her audience, taking time to call out slowpokes returning to their seats during intermission, “We waitin’ on you.”
“I guess we’re gonna see what happens next, in Act II. We’re all in this together.” Every time she says Act II, we can only think about surfing through Just Blaze, Bun B, or Jay Z’s laptops— three of the people who have supposedly heard the album. We also hearken back to the Okayplayer’s 15th Anniversary Show at SXSW, when Badu introduced the last hour of her DJ set as “baby daddy hour,” before dropping an Andre 3000 verse. Badu has never given a single fuck.
The only constant throughout the night’s production is a line Badu repeats in almost every skit, “We’re all here to experience the consequences of our choices and our judgments.”
Act II begins with hand puppets. Badu envisions a couple’s argument; judging by the accents, the woman is from Queens and the man is from the Bronx but also sometimes from Staten Island. Again, it’s all improv, so it’s hilarious to hear the argument Badu crafts on-the-spot.
Badu moves to a chair in the far right corner and, using a multi-track looper, improvises a song using only her voice. The song she improvises helps her segue into the next skit about a mother who believes she’s being tailed by the red and blues of the police (so she eats all the drugs she finds in her ashtray). When she’s first pulled over the audience laughs nervously—given recent events in this country — as she chastises her children to buckle their seatbelts, but she quickly breaks that tension when she realizes that the flashing lights are actually her son’s light-up L.A. Gear shoes. The shtick pays off, and the audience bursts into laughter.
Next up is Badu as Judge Epstein, spitting out courtroom-themed one-liners complete with rimshots provided by drummer Cleon Edwards. After this we find Badu singing again, but this time it’s one we’re all familiar with, a stripped-down take of “Out My Mind, Just In Time.”
Speaking of stripped-down, there were whispers (not entirely denied by Badu) that she would appear nude in the play. The closest we come to seeing Badu bare is in the play’s final vignette, where Badu lays in a bathtub and reflects on the state of Blackness on this planet. Alluding to the theme of afro-futurism in Sun Ra’s music, she asks, “I was trying to figure out, is there a place on this planet where it’s okay to be black? I couldn’t…I couldn’t think of anywhere. And they make us feel bad because we speak up about it…Those who love their race, they call us ‘racist.’”
She leaves the audience with this: “We got so used to being less than, being treated shitty, that when we are treated good we need to be treated bad—so if there’s no one around to do it, we do it to ourselves. We become addicted to that pain, and now we’re sick.”
Reflections like these led Sun Ra to proclaim, “Space is the Place.”
“Freedom for the slaves and the slave masters…fade to black,” Badu exhales.