A trio of exuberant, sassy, too-cool-for-you black teens come of age set to the tunes of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” with biting humor and power politics on display. Flying Elephant Productions’ Chicago premiere of Defacing Michael Jackson is a prophetic look at racism and the hazards of sexual awakening that showcases deft writing and flirty, charming emulation of the late King of Pop.
A Protagonist for Defacing Michael Jackson
Playwright Aurin Squire voices teen angst through the lanky, handsome Obie (Christopher Taylor). His long legs and swivel hips seem detached from his torso each time he busts a move to recurring tidbits from “Thriller.” Frenchy (Jory JoJo Pender), the president of the Michael Jackson Fan Club is petulant and conniving in her overtures for Obie’s attention. The new white boy come to town, Jack (Sam Martin) is her nemesis. Enter the ugly face of racism to the stage in the midst of teenage innocence.
The stuttering Yellow (Eldridge Shannon III) is an easy target for clubhouse contempt. Frenchy and Yellow riff on “you’re so ugly/stupid” in a bite-your-lip-lest-you-laugh routine that belies the abuse they know at home. Yellow is oblivious, if only offered a chance to stare at Frenchy’s chocolate breasts that obsess he and his brother, Red. He is the undaunted buffoon twice cursed with a brown face and a wanting intelligence. Shannon’s portrayal of his wide-eyed libido is a treat.
Flying Elephant Productions Give us a Play About The Politics of Power
Jack injects white privilege in the club with a careless innocence in his aw-shucks bid for acceptance. His racist father resides unseen in his comments, stereotypes readily parsed by the club members’ sharp comebacks. Jack is a throwback look at the way technology would usher in status — my Nintendo trumps your VCR. Obie is won over. The pain of systemic oppression and provisional acceptance are uneasy bedfellows.
Pop tunes from the 80’s are a delightful bridge between scenes in Petter Wahlback’s sound design. We are treated to snippets from “Thriller” and other 80’s pop classics. Jackson is a palpable presence on stage even as the town of Opa-locka, Florida moves to construct a public mural to Jackson’s rising star. Never mind the infamous Pepsi – flaming jheri curl debacle. Michael is the symbol of escape from all that would hold black youth from lives of budding promise.
A Spector Beneath the Blanket
Libidinous curiosity between Jack and Obie is as awkward onstage as it is in life. Squire wants to say something important about sexual experimentation between a black man and a white man. For this reviewer, concern overrides prurient pleasure. Questions about the tawdry influence of Jack’s ever-present, but never seen father are left to interpretation. Club house epithets of “faggot” thrown at Obie portend a rough ride we are not privy to either.
The real spector beneath the blanket is racism. Defacing Michael Jackson is a cogent look at a 1980’s American south facing down its demons. Obie’s conscience is a uniting narrative that knits together disparity — if only for a moment in time. Michael Jackson’s fall from grace in the town’s fan club occasions a dissolution that propels youth into adult thinking.
See “Defacing” for the humor. See “Defacing” for a barometer of our progress in race relations. You’ll see the promise of a Michael Jackson whose best-selling “Thriller” was the zenith of a career; a symbol of hope for unity in a black and white world.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Playwright: Aurin Squire
Director: Alexis J. Roston
Cast (in alphabetical order): Samuel Martin (Jack), Jory (JoJo) Pender (Frenchy), Eldridge Shannon (Red, Yellow, Commish) and Christopher Taylor (Obadiah).
Production Team: Nicholas Schwartz(scenic design), Sound Design: Petter Wahlbäck, Jesse Gowens(costume design), Becs Bartle(lighting design) and Jordan Affeldt(stage manager).
July 29-August 12, 2018
Thursday @ 7:30PM
Friday & Saturday @ 8:00PM
Sunday @ 3:00PM
1225 W. Belmont Ave.
About the Author:
Stephen B. Starr is Principal of Stephen B. Starr Design, Inc., a design and communication consultancy in Evanston, IL. Stephen is a former president of the Chicago Creative Coalition, organizer for the Chicago Weekly Sitting Meditation Group and founded and organized the Chicago Web Professionals for 12 years. Stephen is nurtured creatively by the fine art of story-telling — especially in the theater. As a college journalism major, he has since followed the siren’s call of poetry and short story writing in his free time. He is interested in the wisdom of indigenous spiritual traditions and seeks inspiration in natural settings by gardening, camping, hiking and biking.