Off-Broadway Review: TRIPLE THREAT (Theatre Row)

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by Kevin Vavasseur on June 23, 2023

in Theater-New York


In the vernacular of showbiz, the appellation “triple threat” refers to a performer who equally excels at acting, singing and dancing. That Broadway veteran James T. Lane, currently starring in his aptly named solo show Triple Threat, is deserving of this moniker is certainly not news. Mr. Lane has performed major roles in major musicals throughout his twenty-plus year career onstage and has appeared before appreciative audiences worldwide. So what is the point of shoehorning his colossal talents onto a tiny stage at Theatre Row on 42nd Street? We already know he’s good.

As it turns out, Mr. Lane’s blisteringly honest dive into life beyond his talent is not concerned with proving his performing expertise. Supported by creative and risk-taking direction and choreography by Kenny Ingram, Mr. Lane’s writing describes a very high fall from grace. After booking an incredible first job right out of high school with the national tour of FAME – The Musical, he was introduced to the recreational drug Ecstasy (aka MDMA) while on the road. That opened the door to harder drugs, eventually landing the now unemployable Lane in front of a judge, arrested for prostitution. What he went through, how he overcame it and the successful career he’s enjoyed these last eighteen years of his sobriety are the stuff of his story.

However, this is no self-absorbed drug-o-logue or “poor me” plea for pity. Mr. Lane uses his triple treat capabilities to create a uniquely powerful, often funny exploration of false self vs. true self, a struggle that may resonate with many people. His shining talent and engaging personality served as life-long protection against fundamental, inescapable, self-slander that constantly denigrated him as a person. Working in a business in which he was often the only Black person in the room (or one of few), his elevation by the white, Broadway, public gaze countered the dehumanization he experienced by the white, gay, private gaze that often reduced his dark-skinned, African-American, good looks to mere sex object. In one particularly difficult scene to witness, Lane recreates a bathhouse encounter in which he is having intercourse as the active partner. With each thrust, he voices how a piece of himself is being torn away by each push into the white man below. Yet he continues to perform for this stranger regardless, a metaphor for his continual search for outside validation.

And while Mr. Lane is a wonderful dancer and singer, he is a phenomenal actor. Playing upwards of twenty characters in person and projected onscreen (kudos to Tij D’Oyen’s comical Video Design and Teresa L. Williams’ minimal Scenic Design), this triple threat can instantly switch between incarnations – creating complete, fleshed out, differentiated personalities instantaneously. Particularly compelling is when he’s playing himself or his sketchy companions during the worst of his drug days. The healthy and muscular performer that opens the show seems to literally shrink and deflate when in the crack house or rambling on the street in sleep-deprived psychosis.

Lane’s engaging writing is fairly episodic yet with a touch of impressionism. The overall conceit of the show is that Lane is at a present-day audition that somehow kicks him into these memories (I think). Probably more attention could be paid to that set-up to help anchor the show a bit more without losing too much of the amorphous quality that allows Lane to travel story-wise wherever he needs. There are some moments when we get a bit lost in the weeds, not that the weeds aren’t enjoyable, yet some overall streamlining might be useful. Lane also connects his personal struggles to larger issues around racism, homophobia, showbiz, even family dynamics – giving the show an unexpected societal awareness. And why did he use? He doesn’t really say, inviting the audience to judge for themselves or, more importantly, examine their own reasons for any self-limiting beliefs they personally maintain.

James T. Lane is an impressive performer yet his must-see solo show proves him to be so much more. Behind the Broadway pizazz is a brave, generous, caring, thoughtful and compassionate human being who turned the lemons of his suffering into lemonade for himself and many others. So, let’s all grab a glass and drink up.

photos by Jeremy Daniel Photography

Triple Threat
Theatre 2@Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street
ends on July 30, 2023
for tickets, visit Theatre Row

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