- Terelle Jerricks
By John Farrell
The Universe of Matt Jennings is the personal story of, yes, Matt Jennings, told in part as a Star Trek adventure, but very much more than just an exploration of a young man’s growth told in terms of James T. Kirk. It was performed, only twice, as one part of the very successful Collaborative at the Long Beach Playhouse April 6 and 7 before two audiences that ended the evening cheering Jennings after he told the very personal (and very funny) story of his life as a Black young man who grew up in a religious family of brilliant left-brain academics only to find himself a right-brain actor and a gay one at that.
Jennings is tall and skinny, his hair cut very short, clean-shaven and with an expressive face and a body that he can use to comic effect, looking every bit the Star Fleet officer at first he changes costumes on stage, goes from a Star-Trek style command chair to a desk to a bed, sings a song created just for this show and is never afraid to tell his story directly to the audience, from discussing downloading gay porn to getting a blow-job as a farewell gesture from a friend. Yes, this story is not for children, but it isn’t pornographic, either, just revealing and poignant, when it isn’t filled with laughs.
The show is a monologue but it isn’t just Jennings up there: the play was directed by Sean F. Gray and Gray used every bit of the Playhouse Studio Theatre to effect: Jennings starts in the central chair like every captain of the Starship Enterprise, but he is soon moving all over the stage, interacting with images taken from the TV show, telling us how he first found out he was attracted to men and how he wanted to be an actor. Gray directed him in a collaborative process that was intriguing to watch. Jennings is easy to like and his narrative is affecting and very real: a modern voyage that many have taken. It is frank and personal but also more than a bit fun and funny. You are glad to know how he got where he is, glad to make friends with Matt Jennings. Gray said after the play that there have been no plans made to take it elsewhere, but didn’t seem averse to staging it again elsewhere. Keep your eyes open for The Universe of Matt Jennings. We will, too.