Theres hardly anything Quentin Talley does onstage that isnt suffused with his personal charm, whether hes acting, singing, riffing a poem, or just confidentially schmoozing the audience. Ive never seen Q dance, evidence that the man knows his limits.
So I was only slightly disappointed when his newest performance piece, Take Cover, was unveiled as a work-in-progress at McGlohon Theatre last Saturday night. The show was enjoyable from beginning to end, but in terms of structure, craftsmanship, and theatrical substance, Take Cover cries out for a middle and an end to match its promising beginning.
Q tells us about his upbringing down in Greenwood, South Carolina, gives us a taste of his championship-caliber slam poetry, and sits down briefly at the piano perhaps not briefly enough to recall his first contacts with music and his abortive piano lessons. From then on, Q let his grip loosen on the autobiographical thread until, by the time the show concluded, any promise of a through-line had become a distant memory.
In the meantime, Q slammed with three spoken word Goliaths, including the bodacious Bluz and the slinky Black Swan. On the musical side, he sang with a guitarist buddy and paid homage to Nina Simone with a jazz trio. Overall, the design of Qs one man-ish show can be summed up as Im gonna tell you a little bit about myself and then hang with my peeps.
That really wasnt such a bad idea as I watched Q pull it off, stylishly calling up his accomplices from the audience or backstage, occasionally peppering his intros with a tasty anecdote or Bohemian epigram. My favorite (paraphrased): Why work at a job you hate and not be able to pay your bills when you can be doing something you really love and not pay your bills?
Qs slipshod way of putting his show together jibed rather well with that outlook. If you imagined yourself in Qs living room (if he only had one), the casualness that at times seemed so slack-ass at McGlohon would be perfectly natural, spontaneous, and winsome. As if the modest purpose were simply This is who I am, and this is what I do.
So many of the remarks that Q let drop performing his work-in-progress reassure me that Take Cover will never fall prey to pretentiousness as it continues to develop. But to rise to the stature of the many autobiographical pieces that tour the Queen City, Q needs to crystallize the big lesson of his life and hit us with it delivering the payload with the punch of a true-life crisis and a dramatic peak.