This review of Ray Allen Durand's Let The Little Boy Dance at The Duplex Cabaret Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 4 (2014) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
"Let The Little Boy Dance" - Ray Allen Durand
The Duplex Cabaret Theatre
61 Christopher Street
New York, New York 10014
Reviewed 9/21/14 at 4:30 p.m.
Ray Allen Durand stars in this autobiographical one-man show entitled Let The Little Boy Dance: From 'Bayou Baby' To 'Broadway Baby' - An Odyssey Told In Song, Dance & Drama, which traces his life from his birth in Hammond, Louisiana on March 6, 1943 to his current status as a retired High School Drama Teacher. Mr. Durand presents the key incidents of his life in chronological order as part of a fictitious speech he is giving at the 50th Annual Reunion of Hammond High School's Class of 1961, said event that was being held at the Columbia Theatre, a significant cultural venue in Hammond's Historic District. Ray Allen holds nothing back and is as honest about his family as he is about himself. If you know and love Ray Allen Durand from the UFT Players or as a former teacher at Clara Barton High School in Brooklyn, this show will be a revelation for you.
Mr. Durand starts his story at the beginning - his birth, when anticipating his future career in show business, was silently saying, "Push mama! It's time for me to make my entrance!". While his alcoholic father, who just came back from the war, was not at all pleased with his son's delight in dancing and singing, his mom took comfort in the fact that their parish priest called him "his little ray of sunshine" for reasons not fully disclosed. However, he did admit that when he was twelve years old, his uncle "seduced him" and that he "liked being wanted". In retrospect, he didn't like the fact he didn't have much say in the matter. Ray Allen took on a paper route that delivered to homes in a black neighborhood where he sometimes hung out. The other boys in town called him "Nigger Lover", "Mama's Boy", "Sissy", "Homo", "Faggot" and "Queen". Despite all the obstacles, Ray Allen Durand continued performing being named Bayou Baby Of The Year and winning a Jitterbug Contest. He eventually attended Southeastern Louisiana University and spent a good deal of his time in New Orleans where he was introduced to "Gay Life in the Quarter". One of the bars he frequented was Dixie's Bar on Bourbon Street, where Miss Dixie (Yvonne Fasnacht) had him perform as a stripper in drag telling him to "be yourself" and to "take these feathers and fly!". In New Orleans, he met an older gay man named Bob who invited him up to New York City after he graduated from college in the summer of 1966. Ray Allen accepted the ticket to paradise and stayed with Bob for two years while modeling, acting and taking dance lessons. He performed in a naked male revue, which his parents came to New York to see. His father, who by this time had accepted the obvious, told him after the show, "you gotta do what you gotta do".
Once in New York City, the little Southern Boy from rural Louisiana went hog wild, flittering from bar to bar and from man to man. One night, a handsome man named Dale asked Ray Allen what song he would like played on the jukebox. He responded Respect by Aretha Franklin, which Dale played before offering to buy the young man a drink. After four or five drinks, Ray Allen went home with Dale but it turned out they had a long and lasting connection with one another. Ray Allen moved out of Bob's home and spent the next 45 years with Dale, formalizing their marriage as soon as it became possible under New York State law. By 1976, acting and modeling work had dried up so he accepted a position with United Cerebral Palsy entertaining adults and kids for 10 years. He was then hired as the Drama Teacher at Clara Barton High School in Brooklyn. At the time, he was described as being "very theatrical". He rapped an introduction to his mostly minority students and told them to call him Mr. D. He said if they didn't like Mr. D, they could call him a "Southern Redneck Son-Of-A-Bitch". From then on, he got along well with his students. They eventually referred to him as "Mr. Johnson", which he later came to understand was the highest possible compliment they could pay to him since it meant they thought he was "a black man in a white man's body".
Eventually, Ray Allen Durand realized he ended up exactly where he wanted to be and that it was the total fulfillment of all his dreams. He finally understood that he was able to keep sharing with the students what he had been learning over the years. Some of that advice included: "No matter what environment you come from, you can rise above it." "There is no right or wrong with an artistic project. And there are no unwanted people here." "Keep your dreams alive. There is gold at the end of the rainbow." Pick yourself up, Dust yourself off, and Start all over again." "Keep it simple. One day at a time." Ray Allen Durand then finished with the observation that: "It took a while, but it dawned on me. I was finally in the long running hit that had always eluded me, with a large and generous supporting cast. In the best part of my career - a teacher!"
Ray Allen Durand's Let The Little Boy Dance was directed by David Brunetti with Bob Goldstone at the piano. Mr. Durand lays his life out for you on stage in just short of an hour. The show is an inspiration for all who seek to overcome adversity and make their mark in the world. The story he told reminded me of the message portrayed in the movie Mr. Holland's Opus with the exception that Mr. Durand's one-man show is brutally honest and tells you exactly what he had to go through to get to this point in his life. With respect to that life, all I can say is "Well Done!"