Some people dream of becoming rich, others of becoming famous, but as a child growing up in Queens, New York, young Vincent James Arcuri dreamed of becoming butch, or so we learn in Becoming Butch, Arcuri’s delightful, captivating, and ultimately inspiring one-man performance, continuing its midweek run at the Celebration Theatre over the next two Tuesdays.

Actor/producer/writer/humorist Arcuri has attracted quite a following from his Becoming Butch columns in Frontiers In LA magazine and online at  Still, as entertaining as Arcuri is in written form, he’s even more so in person, his razor-sharp timing, ingratiating manner, and boyish good looks making him a natural on stage.

Arcuri was the fourth of four children born to a New York City construction worker (who loved skyscrapers) and a stay-at-home mom (who loved her four kids). Though young Vincent was the long-awaited male heir to his father’s name following the birth of his three older sisters, it soon became clear from the child’s golden curls and his love of all things Barbie that this boy child was marching to the beat of his own drummer, cheerleader’s baton in hand.

Growing up different isn’t easy for anyone, and by the time Vincent was in high school, the taunting was relentless. (“If I wasn’t called a faggot behind my back, the question was raised rather rudely right to my face: ‘You’re not a fucking faggot are you?’”) No wonder he took solace in the world of TV, first idolizing Gary Coleman on Different Strokes, and then seeing an adult version of himself in Steven Carrington on Dynasty. “Forget Arnold Jackson, I wanted to be just like Steven Carrington; wealthy, blonde, beautiful and gay … or at least find a boyfriend just like him.”

Arcuri introduces us to the cast of characters in his own TV sitcom (or nighttime soap as the case might be), from his rugged man’s man of a father to his very New Yawk mom to his possibly mob-connected Uncle Vito. “I don’t think Uncle Vito ever knew any of our names because he always referred to my father as ‘Bro,’ my mother as ‘Sisa-in-Law,’ and I was always ‘Nephew’ or ‘Neph’ for short. My sisters were usually referred to collectively as ‘the girls.’”  

There’s also the speech therapist Arcuri consulted in an effort to sound butch, having been told by a close girlfriend that “No, people don’t know you’re gay the moment you walk into a room, but they do as soon as you open your mouth.” Interestingly, though Arcuri claims that the lessons didn’t really take, whenever he imitates any of the straight male characters in his life, he totally nails their masculinity. (No pun intended.)

Arcuri punctuates his performance with snapshots of his younger days, including photos of his first haircut and the loss of his girlish locks. (“I was definitely a boy, no doubt about it! My parents solved that dilemma pretty well and all was fine … until I started to speak.”)  There are also pics of young James in full baseball regalia, pretending to lead a parade (baton in hand), placing the baby Jesus in the manger, cutting his 9th birthday Gary Coleman cake, etc. At various moments, a Butch Meter shows Arcuri’s current status, from 0 to 10, and though he never quite gets to that highest score, his coming out to Mom and Dad story brings him darn close.

Director Louis J. Cuck, working with his charismatic star and tiptop lighting designer Matthew Brian Denman, has kept Becoming Butch visually varied, a real theatrical piece as opposed to simply a live version of Arcuri’s columns. Tijuana Jones stage manages the Celebration production.

Becoming Butch’s current run at the Celebration has its star preaching to the choir, with most if not all in the audience finding themselves reflected in Arcuri’s tale.  It would be wonderful if director and star could compact this full-length version (minus its few risqué double entendres) and package it for high school assemblies.  After all, even in these somewhat more enlightened times, LGBT youth still face much of the same taunting that young Vincent did*, and I can’t think of a better way to reach both them and their tormenters than via this 30something survivor and his oh so potent weapon—laughter.

For audiences of any sexual orientation, Vincent James Arcuri in Becoming Butch is the perfect midweek pick-me-up.

Celebration Theatre, 7051B Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood.  

–Steven Stanley
May 11, 2010

*from GELSEN’s website:
•97 % of students in public high schools report regularly hearing homophobic remarks from their peers
•53% of students report hearing homophobic comments made by school staff
•80% of prospective teachers report negative attitudes toward gay and lesbian people
•2/3 of guidance counselors harbor negative feelings toward gay and lesbian people

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