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Poet Staceyann
Chin defies categorization

Poet Staceyann
Chin defies categorization

Staceyann Chin defies easy classification. In fact, she rebels against it, saying in her autobiographical one-woman show playing off-Broadway that it's become her mission to "erase the straight lines" in society that dictate people's places and oftentimes their worth. But while this message and her uniqueness--Chin is a lesbian activist slam poet from Jamaica who was born to a black mother and Chinese father--could be enough to drive the show, it's her luscious and wonderfully witty writing and total command of the stage that make her such a fascinating person to watch.

Chin's words come rapid-fire in her clipped Jamaican accent, melodious yet often filled with rage and indignation--"writing my own history is a political act," she proclaims. She crouches low like a cat while illuminated from lights in the stage and spews invective at a society controlled by men and riven with racism and homophobia. There are also quieter moments of Border-Clash, playing at New York City's Culture Project, such as the opening, when the diminutive, shorts- and halter top-clad actress recounts her upbringing in her aunt's strict God-fearing home. She was never close to her father and her mother abandoned her as a child to live in Canada, leaving Chin to surround herself with books and her girlhood fantasies. Later, as she grows into her body, she tells about her first sexual experiences, then her first love--a woman in her college class. Chin's awakening as a lesbian is all-encompassing--she shaves her head and listens faithfully to Melissa Etheridge albums--which leads to the most harrowing scene in the play, a showdown in a bathroom with a group of men who want to turn her straight. That encounter causes Chin to forsake her home island for the streets of New York, where she has carved out a successful career as a poet, performer, and lecturer, having appeared in the Tony Award-winning Russell Simmons' Def Poetry Jam on Broadway and won innumerable slam poetry contests around the country.

Without seeming narcissistic, Chin says she feels her life was always meant to make a difference, and watching the fervor with which she throws herself into the show and hearing the conviction in her words, it's impossible not to believe her. Her purpose is so resolute, in fact, that she encourages the audience to help her confront homophobia by spreading the word about her show. Yet, as confident as she is, her vulnerability is apparent at times too, such as when she speaks of lying in bed next to her girlfriend, their limbs twisted together like a pretzel. She also readily laughs at her insecurities when she receives an invitation to appear on a national news program. Sitting nervously in the makeup chair, she suddenly feels like a girl again, timid and uncertain of her exact place. It's these dichotomies that give Chin an undeniable force. Simply put, she's a writer who demands to be heard. (Justin Bergman, via AP)

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