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MORE ON 'You Wanna Piece of Me?'

Wrestling With Issues of Race and Music

Published: August 26, 2005

The actor-writer Joe Hernández-Kolski pivots on the hyphen in his name, and on other internal divisions, as exuberantly as a break-dancer in his multimedia solo show, "You Wanna Piece of Me?," part of the New York International Fringe Festival.

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Rahav Segev for The New York Times

Joe Hernández-Kolski in "You Wanna Piece of Me?" at Ace of Clubs.

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Racial identity and musical taste are the primary signifiers, as the 30-something author traces his growth from a heavy-metal "headbanger in a black school" in Chicago to a hip-hop-obsessed Afro-American studies major at Princeton. Along the way, his proud Mexican mother decided that his professional name as a child actor would include her surname, only adding to his multicultural confusion.

He later wrestles with whiteness in a funny riff that begins with ambivalence about Justin Timberlake and ends with a subtle wardrobe malfunction. In another typical reversal, Mr. Hernández-Kolski extols the fair sex and declares himself a feminist, then immediately portrays a heckler who pegs the sensitive-guy act as a ploy to seduce women.

The show - a sampler-style memoir energetically rendered - shades into seriousness when a young acquaintance commits a coldblooded murder. But gloom and doubt are set aright with a series of preachy affirmations.

Forays into the bastard genre of hip-hop poetry - poorly rhymed doggerel that gives both hip-hop and poetry a bad name - are mitigated by an open-mike parody, topped by the groaner "You are my chai latte!" The whole show is like this: teetering on the edge of earnest excess, then turning the charm back on. The director, Benjamin Byron Davis, keeps the focus tight. DJ Jedi, onstage throughout, provides both LP-scratching arias and laconic straight-man commentary. The show's steady counterpoint only sharpens its point. As Mr. Hernández-Kolski puts it, "My name is not what you call me but what I answer to."

"You Wanna Piece of Me?" runs tonight at 7 andtomorrow at 2:45 p.m. at Ace of Clubs, 9 Great Jones Street, East Village; (212) 279-4488.

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Photo: George Gershwin rehearses, 1929
Photo: George Gershwin rehearses, 1929