Friday 24 November 2017

The Shipment is full boat-load of racial jibes
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes & the human voice & people gathered together.   
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

From the footlights: "Racism-pure-&-simple" is fundamentally a passe notion. We live in a world that could be termed either pan-racist or poly-racist. It's everywhere. So i.m.o. the best comprehensive English word that captures all racisms of every colour, stripe and texture is bigotry. For its part the play The Shipment is written by a female Korean-American and is focus'd on stereotypes of blacks who reflect back the bigotry they face.

A series of satirical comic vaudeville sketches precede a mini-one-act play at show's end. Purpose of it all is to force people to re-examine their own gut-level biases -- in thought or deed -- against those who are the "other", the "not us". Their skin colour is almost incidental to the drift of playwright Young Jean Lee's script as I see it. She uses faux-blackface in minstrel-mode as her medium. 
A wink? A half-wink? A kiss? A spit? All of the above from Andrew Creightney in this provocative script by the punchy Korean-American playwright Young Jean Lee in a SpeakEasy Theatre production of her work @ the Cultch Lab.
Photo credit Jens Kristian Balle
Faux-blackface is my word for it as, racially, the actors are in fact blacks who both emblemize and satirize the stereotypes their people have projected to the world. The stand-up comic who slags the ticket-buyers who are mostly honkies. The rap star groupie. Granny as a heavenly Aunt Jemima who speaks in parables. Crackhead. The anti-Denzel cops. And a one-act take-off on white collar office neuroses. 
Cast poses with eyes piercing through the photographer's lens to challenge audience bigotry just as they do in what is perhaps the show's best moment.  From left Andrew Creightney. Adrian Neblett. Kiomi Pyke. Omari Newton. Chris Francisque.
Photo credit Jens Kristian Balle

What the show brings to the stage : When do comic sketches morph into genuine grievances? When is a white audience to laugh at the black actors' antics, when to cry, when to shut up and muse thoughtfully? Whether we're seeing mash-up-&-lampoon or a genuine anguished lament about red-neck cracker racism per se -- such is the conceit that propels Lee's script along. (Yes! to both propositions.)

Aside : That a Korean-American woman writes dialogue for a troupe of black characters who lob wordplay games at a largely white audience is not just a laughing matter. It is proof positive that the whole theory of "appropriation" -- theft of voice, theft of gender, theft of race -- is precisely the non-starter it always was. No question (again, i.m.o.) that the whole concept of alleged "appropriation" should have been recognized from the get-go for what it is : fake news, to plagiarize a certain Twitter-freak. 

Still the fact is "identity politics" is what many folks of all races -- leftist & alt-right both -- cleave to. And nowhere are identity politics more visibly and audibly telling S. of 49 than in the NFL / kneel-down face-off over "respect" : some say a song measures it; others say police guns sing a different tune.

Production values that hi-lite the script : Five players. No set or props until the closing mini-one act birthday party scene outfitted in a NYC yuppie apartment. Omari Newton opens the show with his take-off on a black stand-up comedian who makes fun of whites. "I gotta talk about race because white people are so mo-fo stupid. And I don't mean to be offensive, but white people are evil, the stupidest mo-fo's on the planet." [N.B. Editor's election to euphemise here.]

And in case the Vancouver audience might not quite get it, he talks about first nations people here being Canada's blacks. "We gotta acknowledge that systemic racism is embedded in our culture. Don't make assumptions. When I call you out on your racism just say you're sorry and don't do it again!" he challenges the crowd not even 1/2-kidding. He exits, laughing at the crowd "Now you my niggers!"

There's the stereotyped Mom (Kiomi Pyke) -- six kids, 10 grandkids -- wants her son Omar (Andrew Creightney) to be a doctor. He wants to be a rap star. Opposite Desmond (Adrian Neblett) they riff on stealing cars, selling drugs, shooting people : "If you don't shoot people, they won't respect you," Desmond says as if his tongue couldn't find his cheek if it needed to.

Chris Francisque's turn as the hair stylist Sa-shay was one of the night's funniest bits. Possibly the best and cleverest routine was Grandma from Heaven. She tells a parable about cranes and red berries and how in the end due to their selfish sins "Everyone sat around maimed and bleeding until the sun went down." What followed was 120 seconds of absolute dead silence from the cast as, all in a row, they stared out at the audience and established fixed-eye-contacts with the crowd. Not a breath to be heard from anyone in the house.

Acting pin-spots : Other than what is noted above, to single out one or two actors from the five as superior to any other would in the Laugh-In minstrel show format be unfair, though Gotta say! the dance routine by Messrs. Creightney & Francisque was particularly riotous, as was Francisque's turn as Omar-the-food-purist in the one-act birthday party that ended the night. (Anyone who couldn't figure out the end-point of the one-act from the get-go perhaps missed much of the earlier satire as well. A bit of abridgement of that scene wouldn't hurt in the least.)

Who gonna like :  Judging by the riotous laughter at last night's ON show, the script and the performances deserved the stand-up wild-clapping 100% Huzzah! the crowd gave it.

Driving home, meanwhile, I mused aloud how well the show would play, say, as a summer repertory slot in the popular resort town of Lake Chelan in Washington State (where in 2016 Donald Trump whupped Hillary Clinton 55%-to-39.3%).

Playwright Young Jean Lee set out to write, with her original actors' help in New York, a black identity politics piece. The Shipment may be shorthand for shipment of drugs, shipment of slaves, shipment of white Europeans hell-bent on conquering the new world and its people. The word never surfaces in the script.

Regardless, this show succeeds in its multilayered extended riff -- and sermonettes -- about the bigotry that is rife in our culture. As the SpeakEasy Theatre principals point out below in the Addendum, this is timely, pertinent, poignant stuff to consider and have more than a single laugh doing so. Think you're "colour blind"? Give your head a shake-&-a rattle -- then roll on down to the Cultch where you'll be challenged to Think again!

Particulars : SpeakEasy Theatre presents the West Coast Canadian Premiere of The Shipment. Written by Young Jean Lee. At the Cultch's VanCity black box Lab stage, Victoria @ Vennables. On through December 2nd. Tickets by phone at 604.251.1363 or on-line at

Production team :  Produced by Markian Tarasiuk.  Directed by Kayvon Khoshkam & Omari Newton.  Set & Costume Designer Markian Taraskiuk.  Lighting Designer Itai Erdal. Music Director Dawn Pemberton.  Music Arrangement Steve Charles.  Stage Manager Sarah Mabberley.  

Performers : Andrew Creightney.  Chris Francisque.  Adrian Neblett.  Omari Newton.  Kiomi Pyke. 
Addendum #1 : from SpeakEasy Theatre's original press release about this show.

SpeakEasy Theatre Artistic Director Kayvon Khoshkam says "The play does not judge, nor does it preach, rather it invites us in to share and listen. The Shipment is raw, challenging and incredibly funny which is a perfect fit for the style of experience we have established for the company and our audiences. A night out with SpeakEasy is never what you expect, and you will always have a very good time."

Noting his interest in Korean-American Young Jean Lee writing about Black identity, Co-Director Omari Newton says : "Conversations about race are often presented as a dichotomy ('This is what Black people think, presented by a Black person,' etc.) and I was very intrigued to hear a thoughtful examination of the subject by an Asian woman. While 'The Black' experience is of course unique, there is a shared experience of being considered 'Other' by dominant culture. As an Asian person and as a woman, Young Jean Lee has experience with the many ways that systems of power exert their influence. As a Black man, I do as well. As a person of Middle Eastern heritage, Kayvon undoubtedly does as well. I'm interested in seeing how this melange of perspectives shapes our telling of the story."

To which Khoshkam adds : "The Shipment (and content like it) is required at this time. The rise of hatred, racism and claims is a global concern which has a disturbing fury in its stride. We knew that we had to make this piece happen whatever the cost. We want SpeakEasy to establish itself as an active member in the dialog over diversity and representation, and to take a leadership position in fostering socially conscience content."  

Addendum #2 : From the site, the first 20 of the 160 related words that pop up for "racism" are as follows :
  • mindset
  • discrimination
  • racialism
  • segregation
  • apartheid
  • prejudice
  • chauvinism
  • intolerance
  • ethnocentrism
  • xenophobia
  • fascism
  • nationalism
  • bigotry
  • neutralism [sic]
  • bias
  • decadence [sic]
  • ethno-nationalism
  • imperialism
  • isolationism
  • stagnation [sic]


  1. Replies
    1. Bloody Blogsite spellcheck. Got it right x2, wrong x2. Will correct. Thx.