Of a Portrait of a Portrait of a Portr

Does a show end at the exact moment the curtain falls?

Conventionally speaking: yes. But A Strange Loop is many things, and conventional ain’t one of them.

Throughout the NOW TONY AWARD WINNING BEST MUSICAL!!!, there’s mucho consternation over how the story should end. Because it’s a story about one life, and because a life story doesn’t fully end until that final curtain descends (and even then, who knows…), how can A Strange Loop’s ending feel true to a life still being lived?

This question hits even deeper considering the obvious meta-textual elements of A Strange Loop. A major component of its appeal, and why it resonates so profoundly for some, is the awareness of the reality on that stage. Musicals are rarely slices of life, let alone meaningful explorations of singular consciousness, yet it’s so fucking apparent how much writer Michael R. Jackson excavated his own psyche, reaching into the darkest depths of his being, beyond the comforting confines most artists settle for, to shine a probing light on layers upon layers — loops upon loops? — of enlightening, existential truth.

He — and Usher, his proverbial avatar on stage — are yearning to change; they’re so over their current chapter in life, and who they’ve long been, that they’re looping and looping around in perennial search for, well, for the start of the next act to the drama of their lives (one of the show’s first lines: “When does Act 2 begin?” The opening number’s refrain — “How many minutes until the end of intermission?” — immediately places us in Usher and Michael’s limbo; when does one life-act end and the next begin?).

Because Usher’s journey closely mirrors Michael R. Jackson’s, and because real-life Jackson needed to know when the Strange Loop Act of his life was behind him enough to be ready to put A Strange Loop into the world as a finished product, Jackson needed to find a point in his story where he could communicate the conclusion of the “Usher portion” of his life, while also signaling that Usher’s story — and, thus, his own — is far from over.

Just because the show’s over doesn’t mean Michael R. Jackson nor Usher have stopped living. In true Strange Loop fashion, Jackson concocted an uber-meta method to impart this truth: after damn near every performance of its world premiere run at Playwrights Horizons, Jackson himself stood in the lobby as his audiences poured out, wearing the exact same shirt that Usher rocks throughout the show.

Besides underlining the personal, self-referential nature of the material (loops on loops!) — and, practically speaking, giving the personally-touched audiences a chance to build an even more personal connection with the show, through an in-person conversation with its creator Jackson’s corporeal presence also serves to remind us that even though A Strange Loop‘s looping might have reached its finish, the life-looping that inspired it continues on.

And Jackson has taken this idea steps further for the Broadway run. He still waits outside the theater to greet audiences…BUT, this time, Jackson has switched his attire to a suit, one that never appears on Usher’s person in A Strange Loop.

This outfit-change enacts some dramaturgy here. When A Strange Loop first hit the scene, Jackson was closer to the Usher stage of his life, thus the similarity of garb. But now that we’re years later, closer to the end of his stay with A Strange Loop than the beginning, his suit conveys that he’s no longer the same Michael R. Jackson who wrote and is in A Strange Loop.

Or, is he merely playing the Broadway version of Michael R. Jackson, where a suit is more appropriate??

But is there a difference between playing a version of yourself, and just being that self?? If you feel comfortable playing a new version, then doesn’t this new version just become who you are?

Usher is now set in stone, but Michael R. Jackson is still alive and well and “kicking like a baby.” A Strange Loop is now a bygone kick for him, hurtling him into the next kick, which will be written by the suit-clad Michael R. Jackson.

And I cannot fucking wait to see it.

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