In his solo show Triple Threat, James T. Lane offers a tour through his young life, starting from South Philadelphia and making his way to NYC. The show looks behind the facade that Broadway and show business can dazzlingly project. Underlying all of the incremental moments of Lane's rise to performing success and fame, beyond even the struggles with addiction, which threaten to bring him under too many times to number, is an even more painful ache: the racism that has accompanied Lane each step of his career, in big and small moments, from outright comments and slurs to innuendoes and labels. Lane's virtuoso acting, singing, and dancing draw us inward and downward to experience some of his darkest moments of the soul. No one gets off easy in this show, including us, the audience.
Lane's portrayal of the people he has met along the way, especially those who have been there during his hardest points, comprise some of his strongest character work. Through gestures, accents, expressions, and complete embodiment of character idiosyncrasies, Lane morphs into these muses, protectors, and tempters–all playing their part in raising him up or dragging him down–and sometimes a little of both.
The show makes powerful use of the staging and backdrop. White squares and rectangles can be made into a muted setting or become screens upon which comedic filmed clips of Lane project. At times, words parade across the squares of the backdrop to emphasize or ironically jar.
An early-in-the-show scene alludes to an undiscussed sexual trauma that Lane experienced in his young life. The scene helps to convey the miasma of forces at work in Lane as he heads to NYC.
Lane's first encounters with crack show its prevalence and readiness – it is everywhere. And it carries him away. The money flies out. He dances through these scenes of initial crack use. He acts out an interaction in a bathhouse invoking fetish and its forms. Different men he meets light up the squares on the stage backdrop. He mimes sex and having his pockets picked as he says, "they know me better than I know me…. they're taking pieces of me."
Lane does not shy away from the dark and even dirty parts of his story. He brings the materials of his drug habit onstage. We also see him smoke crack on the screen backdrop. An eeriness takes over as his joyful filmed persona goes on and on, cheery and in drag, consumed with crack. "You's a proper crack smoker!" ricochets off the filmed clip on the backdrop screen, haunting. Onstage, he receives phone calls from stage managers because he's late and missing work. And then there's the frantic itching of his drug habit: "I don't know what's real or not," he admits.
A particularly important moment for Lane is September 11. He artfully mirrors the chaos of the time as we hear the planes falling and see the thousands of papers flying through the air. At that moment, he was high, so the tragedy translates even more menacingly. At the same time, he was fired from his job. He lights his pink slip on fire. And then he's itching.
He ends this scene with a quick spotlight on him as he admits to his mom: "I got a drug problem." Then lights out.
It is Lane's portrayal of his mother that really gets us. In reaction to his admission of his problem, she says, "I went and got my firstborn." That line, "my firstborn," resonates throughout the play, a preferred status as well as a weight upon Lane's shoulders. Lane's monologue as his mother shows that she knows exactly what he is going through. "You my firstborn. Something ain't right." And then, pointedly, "Not this. This ain't supposed to happen." The weight of her disappointment lands hard.
Just when the audience thinks Lane has hit his lowest point, he is out again using drugs. The show remains devoted to the reality of his experience, even when, in doing so, he is dragging us through it. It is not fun. It is not glamorous. And it nearly breaks him many, many times. He is brutally arrested for prostitution and undergoes rehab classes and community service. A romance with an older man gives Lane a beautiful relationship that he peripatetically abandons when his drug habits call.
Lane's mother's lines speak loudest at this moment in the show: "To thine own self be true. What I know I have to do. I gotta let him go and give him to God," she says. Lane heads to a support group after this–where he faces denial about his multiple identities–his triple threat: Black, gay, addict.
It is then, after so much, that Lane reaches his cathartic scene. This time, he turns to address the audience: "I'm tired of asking permission for this skin!" He strips off his shirt. "Look at it. There's no hiding this. Take it! You don't want it do you?"
A spotlight on an audience member puts our attention on us. Random individual seats in the audience light up. He recounts racist names and actions from his childhood and his adult life. "Acting like it don't bother me. I should win a damn Oscar." He is talking here for himself and he is talking directly to us. "The hiding and the secrets and the lies–it's all got to go," he states. He owns his triple threat: "Black, gay, addict." He has arrived at a place of truth.
James T. Lane's Triple Threat is the real deal. Shedding the roles he has been assigned, Lane claims back his voice through his words and body, his movements brutal and strong. Lane's raw vulnerability and the pure creative fire of this show are a catalyst for the audience's self-examination. We come away ready to face inner and outer injustices. Lane's ending cry says it all: "I'm tired of being a sliver of a character in someone else's story. So I wrote that shit myself."
Written and Performed by James T. Lane
Directed by Kenny Ingram
Produced by T32 Theatrical
June 17 - July 30, 2023
410 West 42nd (btw 9th and 10th Avenue)
Cynthia Darling is a writer whose work covers music, education, and theater. She has written for Teaching Music magazine and New York Family magazine. Her literary work appears in Schuylkill Valley Journal, Louisiana Literature, and Wanderlust Journal. An educator for over twenty years, she loves nothing more than seeing live solo shows, comedy shows, and storytelling events!