Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Shipment


Written and Directed by Young Jean Lee; at The Kitchen. CLOSED.

A note to off-off-online's William Coyle: it's not Lee's "aesthetic... to create powerful theater that makes herself and the audience uncomfortable", it's her artistic mission (it can't be your aesthetic to make someone uncomfortable, that's not what the word means). Nevertheless, it seems writer/director/experimental darling Young Jean Lee can hang a "mission accomplished" banner over at The Kitchen. The critics love the show- an "African American Identity Play" made up of several satirical vignettes-- and word of mouth is extremely positive. And hey, it just announced an extension this week, so maybe you should buy yourself a ticket.

Time Out A
(David Cote) In this discomforting but viciously goofy mélange, Lee confirms herself as one of the best experimental playwrights in America. Her language manages to be both feverishly strange and rigorously intellectual, and she directs her charismatic, talented cast with economy and theatrical dash. Ethnic jokes abound here; some might be on you.

Backstage A
(Gwen Orel) There's more here than meets the eye. Lee, the 34-year-old Korean-American auteur who wrote and directed the play, claims she likes to address whatever topic scares her the most. The remarkable and versatile cast is African-American, yet Asian-American and African-American relations never come up (though it would be an interesting topic). The Shipment's flashbulblike brilliance is blinding, often leaving the audience in the dark squinting for meaning. That meaning emerges on reflection, something both fascinating and frustrating... unmissable

Off-Off Online A-
(William Coyle) The Shipment is another milestone in Lee’s still very young career. This is exciting work, liberating and vital to new American theater.

NYTimes A-
(Charles Isherwood) The Shipment, performed by a diversely talented cast of five black actors, will bore or offend only the humorless. Ms. Lee’s method is not to wag a finger but to wink and smile, trusting that you’ll register the point after you’ve had a good laugh. The show is provocative but never polemical, and it is pleasingly eclectic. There’s a little song and a little dance; straight-up comedy; sketches; and a short, essentially naturalistic play. But even in the lighter moments, Ms. Lee, who also directed the show, does not shy away from prodding the audience’s racial sensitivities — or insensitivities — in a style that is sometimes sly and subtle, sometimes as blunt as a poke in the eye.

TheatreMania A-
(Dan Bacalzo) Young Jean Lee is not African-American; and yet, the Korean-American playwright's latest work, The Shipment, currently performing at The Kitchen, is an insightful piece about black identity politics that is daring, provocative, and very, very funny. The work, which is also tightly directed by Lee, is made up of thematically related sketches that address race in various ways.

The New Yorker A-
(Hilton Als) One generally hesitates before identifying a new trend in the American theatre, largely because language has a tendency to fix and limit the joy one feels at witnessing the stops and starts, the moments of grace, and the moments of awkwardness in the work of a fledgling director, performer, or playwright. One senses, however, that the thirty-four-year-old playwright and director Young Jean Lee wouldn’t be content with inchoate praise for her work—work that is both explicitly political in content and often mundane in tone. Like her contemporaries the up-and-coming playwrights David Adjmi and Thomas Bradshaw (Bradshaw performed in one of Lee’s early pieces), Lee is a facetious provocateur; that is, she does whatever she can to get under our skin—with laughs and with raw, brutal talk that at times feels gratuitous, and is meant to.

Village Voice B+
(Tom Sellar) The Shipment, [Young Jean Lee's] newest production, specifically challenges mainstream perceptions of African-American identity through a series of engaging but overextended vignettes. It opens with a dance to Semisonic's "Fascinating New Thing," moves into an MC's barbed stand-up act, and eventually culminates in a one-act comedy of manners with a clever reversal at its core.

That Sounds Cool B
(Aaron Riccio) The finished product is so slick that even the more cryptic moments--an a capella rendition of Modest Mouse's "Dark Center of the Universe" (which I guess is mined for the way in which anyone, black or white, can "equally easily fuck you over")--are enjoyable. It's so slick, in fact, that the two longer vignettes--one a reductive glimpse at the Adventures of Would-Be-Rap-Star Omar and His Battles With Adversity, the other a half-serious comedy about a dinner party gone wrong--come across as pure gloss. The former is a grotesque: by the end, Omar is doing five or six lines of coke, and though it's clear that Lee is doing a pastiche of "thug life" it goes on so long that it no longer seems exploitative so much as redundant. As for the latter, it's awkwardly funny, but the payoff seems a little crude, comparatively.

TONY A 13; BS A 13; TNY A- 12; OOO A- 12; NYT A- 12; TM A- 12; VV B+ 11; TSK B 10. TOTAL = 95/8=11.87 = A-


Unknown said...

Hi, guys.

Consider me "tweaked."

By the way, I think you were dead-on with the grade.


Parabasis said...

Ha! okay, maybe that was a dick move... I loved your AR Gurney quote, btw...