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Josephine and I
By Cush Jumbo
Joe's Pub at The Public Theatre
425 Lafayette St.
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It takes a lot of chutzpah to compare yourself to a force of nature like Josephine Bakerónot just in your performing ability but in your private life as well. Yet this is what the extraordinary English actress Cush Jumbo has done in the solo show Josephine and I. Sweeping onstage breathlessly in street clothes, a dog in tow, as if late for her performance, Jumbo launches into a belabored excuse that shifts and swerves, eventually settling into a story about her being a finalist for a TV role that would improve her life immensely, despite separating her from her wonderful activist boyfriend, and by the way she might be pregnant. Details about all this, and much more, are interspersed with a personal narrative of the high points of Josephine Bakerís peripatetic life, which occasionally morphs into impressive (if not quite realistic) imitations of Bakerís singing and dancing, to piano accompaniment by Joseph Atkins. This messy juxtaposition of two messy (if deeply sincere and dedicated) artistic lives ought to collapse from sheer improbability and disjointedness, yet some mysterious alchemy holds it together. Part of the magic is political, as the biographies of Baker and Jumbo converge on the compelling subject of racial prejudice and its effect on black actresses. Yet another part is, well, ineffable, because itís a product of Jumboís sincere, curious and charismatic spirit as she probes for guiding wisdom for her life in the story of an American-turned-French performer who died ten years before she was born. Itís all a little hard to explain, as you can see, yet itís also somehow easy to understand and, more important, marvelous to behold.

 

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