Since being introduced to the work of John Michael Colgin in January, thanks to an encore performance of his solo show Would You Like Guys With That? A McTolerant One-Man Show at the University of Texas at Dallas, I've had several conversations with John Michael, including a formal sit-down interview.
Although it'd be easy to say that I feel like I know him, after seeing his newest work, The A-Gays: Stillwater, Oklahoma, it's evident that he's more enigmatic than he wants to be. The show is running through April 14 at Nouveau 47 Theatre in Fair Park, directed by Matt Tomlanovich. (By the way, in hosting performances like this, the relatively new Nouveau 47 is proving itself increasingly vital.)
After much talk about A-Gays and how the idea for this latest autobiographical/confessional solo play came about, and after seeing him perform once before, I thought I had Colgin figured out. I was wrong.
And for a solo performer, that's important. Someone with such raw talent should keep evolving. How can we figure him out when he still has so much self-discovery to do? It's clear that even at such a young age—just a few years past being alcohol-legal—Colgin has plenty to tell, and no doubt there's much more to come.
In this show, he bounces around like a hyper child—he admitted in an interview that he has been prescribed ADHD medication—as he tells the story of coming out as a young gay man while at college at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. In his search for his first boyfriend, he fell in with a group of attractive, rich gay students, the guys of the show's title. They had a strict entrance policy to their exclusive clique: you can't be ugly.
But Colgin discovered that, on various levels, they weren't so pretty themselves, not on the inside.
He uses this story to work around the hot-topic issue of bullying, and frames it with a thread about Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, who jumped off a bridge to his death after his roommate filmed him with another man and posted it on the internet.
Both of Colgin's shows, Would You Like Guys With That and A-Gays, are about tolerance and acceptance, but the newest one goes deeper, posing the question of acceptance within a community that wants to be accepted.
Where Guys found him creating a situation—becoming a McDonald's employee in the hopes of finding material for his art—A-Gays is a self-questioning exercise that charts notable growth, both artistically and as an adult. In both cases, he challenges the notion of affectation, on different levels. In one, he affected interest in having a real-world job for a creative spark; in the next, he's doing something we have all done at some point: affecting a persona to fit in.
I still prefer the first one, maybe because the discovery of Colgin was in every way a pleasant surprise. And certainly Guys came off as a more cohesive piece than Gays does; a few sections of A-Gays aren't as engaging as most of Guys was. But it is frequently entertaining, and often moving. There are some interesting tie-ins to locals, such as director René Moreno and his production of August: Osage Country—the one in Oklahoma City in 2010, not the one happening right now at WaterTower Theatre. (That's also a clue to the structure of this solo show's title.)
But it's held together through Colgin's undeniable energy and presence, and an obvious passion for writing and performing from a deeply personal place. And it's important to remember that for a solo theater artist, the material might change and the performer stands to grow with each performance.
There hasn't been this kind of homegrown confessional solo work in North Texas in years, so Colgin's voice is fresh and more than welcome. Again, I can't wait to see what he comes up with next.
In the video below, Colgin talks about A-Gays, his influences (Spalding Gray, Tim Miller, Quentin Crisp) and answers the question of whether he plans to stay in Dallas.