We first meet Serpent under a fluffy blanket, wearing bright red silk pajamas and fuzzy slippers. He is contemplating going out to a mythical gay club called the Back Yard. He thinks he might run into his ex-boyfriend…and he kinda really wants to. He speaks into a handheld mic, talking to the audience like you’d chat with your best friend as you get hyped to go out for the night. We even have a group toast: he raises his cocktail glass to the audience and we all raise our glasses (or fists if drinks aren’t handy) in return. A toast to love lost and love on the way! He’s done chatting. He slides out from under the blanket, kicks off his slippers, and reveals those PJs are very club appropriate. Dressed head to toe in a flowy red top and trousers he is ready to hit the dance floor.
The character Serpent is played by Josiah Wise aka serpentwithfeet, alternative R&B singer, self proclaimed hopeless romantic, and star of Heart of Brick, which takes us on a whimsical (yes, whimsical) musical adventure. Director Wu Tsang known for her films like The Wildness, choreographer Raja Feather Kelly (teaching at the Seattle Festival of Dance and Improvisation 2024), and a stunning cast of dancers bring the music and concept to life. Serpent chases love into a storybook world inspired by the life of poet Langston Hughes and the Black LGBTQIA+ nightclub scene of the Harlem Renaissance. The show features songs from Serpent’s as yet un-released new album Grip, available in February of 2024. Serpent is the featured (and only) singer. What sticks with me after witnessing this production is the effortless hope and beauty of his fluid and one of a kind voice, the sound of love in motion.
Heart of Brick delivered a well crafted live music concert, enhanced with a heartwarming narrative and sensational dancing. Choreographer Kelly showcases the gigantic technical talents of the cast with movement that feels inspired by R&B music videos (Mary J Blige’s “Family Affair” music video comes to mind) as much as jazz dance choreographers like Gwen Vernon and Bob Fosse. These dancing friends and frenemies are impossible to stay mad at even when they act rude or competitive. Their gentle spirits, dazzling extensions, durational Fouetté turns and multiple pirouettes communicate they are here to capital “D” Dance more than get too committed to narrative foul play. The tale of finding true love on the dance floor and the sensual and dreamy music and set design by Carlos Soto–sheer, slightly iridescent gauze*** curtains drawn open and closed by the cast throughout the piece–creates a seductive and dreamlike story that transports us from bedroom to nightclub and most memorably into a psychedelic fairy tale fever dream sequence worthy of Disney’s legendary Fantasia.
The peak of the action is when Serpent’s aloof love interest, Brick, is poisoned by club patio plants come to life. The dancers converge onstage around his body lying motionless on the floor. They look like trees seen through a foggy window as they move behind the gauze curtains: a pirouetting chorus line dressed in avant garde greenish costumes that distract from their human-ness. There are just ruffles and folds where their faces should be. I loved this sequence. Here the technical prowess of the dancers becomes sinister. Their standing splits and ridiculous layouts are disorienting.Their endless pirouettes dizzying and spectacular—all unidentifiable limbs flying at strange angles. Like a great bedtime story, this life threatening dream becomes a happily ever after: Serpent is gifted a magical flower by a mysterious queer elder. Rushing to Brick’s side, he delivers the antidote to his Sleeping Beauty, an act that inspires the now human-again friends from the club to let their jealousy go and join Serpent in expressing love and care for Brick during a moment of need.
“Storytelling is one of the key methods used by colonizers to explain and obscure their lawless treatment of the lands and people over which they claim dominion. But storytelling is also one of our best weapons in the fight to reclaim our rightful place.” – Jesse Wente
It is the year 2023. Public homosexuality just became legal in Murfreesboro, Tennessee and violence against Black lives especially Black transgender women is peaking. A fantasy story celebrating Black queer gathering spaces and the love that is found there is a balm for the many big and small heartbreaks the Black LGBTQIA+ community experiences on a daily basis. There is no slut shaming in this story or defined monogamous relationship structures. No one is getting married. From the start it is clear that almost everyone has hooked up with Brick and that many varied connections exist between these club going characters. The point of concern is Brick’s heart…can it be softened enough so that he can receive the love being offered from everyone around him? Tldr: Do Brick and Serpent get a happily-ever-after? The standing ovation at the end of the show was a welcome signal of solidarity from the packed Moore theater. Heart of Brick is a love story to the past and future of queer intimacy and Black gathering spaces. serpentwithfeet’s beautiful voice is my weapon of choice. May he continue to fire his unique message of hope and care into the hearts of all that get to witness the work.
***Fun fact: The textile gauze originated in Gaza, Palestine. I recommend looking into the history of this textile… and yes this is a shameless footnote to remind you this journalist has Gaza, its people and contributions to global arts and culture, on his mind.
Heart of Brick played at the Moore Theater on Nov 1 2023.