Malcolm-Jamal Warner has emerged from his callow Theo Huxtable persona exuding a confident maturity, intense sensuality and a facile ability to weave words into captivating odes to his fractured journey of exploration and self-realization. His four-piece Miles Long Band offers adept jazz-funk interludes, often underscoring Warner’s rhythmic verbal outpourings. Helmer Denise Dowse, abetted by Jonathan Klein’s mood-enhancing lighting, provides well-shaped structure for the shifting dynamics of Warner’s outpourings. “Love & Other Social Issues” could be further enhanced by trimming off a few thematic redundancies, especially when Warner’s focusing on his lifelong obsession with women.
Warner works his way through more than a dozen pieces, divided into three categories: thoughts and images, women and transitions. His opening display of rhyming pyrotechnics, “Babbling Insanity,” establishes his spoken-word virtuosity as he offers an intro to the sexual and social obsessions that have plagued and/or enraptured him. Warner assumes the vein-popping, combative stance of a street fighter as his “Project Image” skewers “bling”-obsessed hip-hop stars who communicate false values to the inner-city youth who idolize them.
Warner assumes a completely different persona when he shifts into a lengthy survey of his admittedly not-quite-so-confident history with women. “Confessions of a Confused Romantic” is a comical admittance of vulnerability when exposing his sensitive side to a woman. A highlight of this section is “Keep Smilin’,” an homage to black women who take pride in their Africanism (“She’s got these real full lips/The same lips she’s always had/The same lips for which she used to be made feel were bad/Until big lips became the fad”).
This performer’s obsession with coitus is represented with full vigor. The lustful “Sprung” even begins with a room-filling orgasmic scream. He proceeds to wallow in the memory of the joy he experienced while in the midst of an intense physical union with his true love (“Lust is simply the foreplay that leads to the purity of love without fear”). Yet, in evidence of the wavering allegiance of his libido, “Lap Dance” slyly reveals his attraction to the recurring swaying hips of the occasional new body that may cross his path.
The final “Transition” section of Warner’s 90-minute wordfest is the most rewarding, despite a relapse into additional female musings. Beginning with the intensely cathartic “This Little Light of Mine,” he tangibly reveals his fear that he may never reach his potential as a man and an artist. And the show-closing “This Dope Called Hope” explores the even greater fear that he shares with all black men that he will not live up to the responsibility of truly being a man (“I bleed insecurities with each swagger and sway/The daggers don’t kill/They merely pierce the wounds of my will”).
With some judicious editing, “Love & Other Social Issues” definitely has the legs for a concert tour that should work its way to a successful Off Broadway outing.