We’re more than midway into the rollicking P.Y.G. OR THE MIS-EDUMACATION OF DORIAN BELLE when perhaps the fiercest and most biting critique of our Whiteness and Blackness comes. With no shortage of witty and fun-filled preaching moments in this script by Tearrance Arvelle Chisolm, it came silently. We’d been watching Eric Gerard as Blacky Blackerson show his considerable dancing chops (“…it’s breakin’, not break dancing..”). His sidekick, Alexand Da Great played by Tevion Devin Lanier, briefly holds up red oversized lips in front of Blacky’s face, as if to scream, “Hey, do you think this is a minstrel show?”
Like most in this script, this self-referential moment flies by as quick as a rap-style hip hop lyric. Chisolm has appropriated George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion to shine a light on APPROPRIATION BIG TIME of Black Culture in the music industry, and way, way beyond.
The premise of P.Y.G. is a reality show where these two Black musicians agree to live with and take on a He’s-So-White-He’s-From-Canada Hip-Hop enthusiast and Justin Bieberish star-- Dorian Belle, played by Garrett Young. They agree to try to teach him street cred. That these two instructors in da ghetto actually hail from Naperville, and are themselves dabbling a bit with cultural appropriation, is just one of the seeming infinite layers deep of irony in this script.
The two Black musicians want the wider audience that going crossover affords. But should they really be pimping Black culture in this way? Why does this White snowflake like hip-hop anyway?
Jackalope Theatre Enlists Top Notch Talents
You too might have trouble keeping the weightier questions of this play front of mind because the actors truly charm and dazzle. Their performances are standout. Expect to be rummaging for your program as soon as the lights come on, trying to find out what you might have missed them in before.
Right from the gitgo, Chisolm’s exploration of Black Culture appropriation zooms with humor filling its sails. This writer—a White woman of a certain age—thinks that it’s more Abbott and Costello and the Marx Brothers who should be flattered, rather than George Bernard Shaw. It starts early on with a who’s-on-first style pun fest with the word bread. Then there is consideration of whether the N-word can be used in mixed company. Reminiscent of Harpo, Blacky sports a bleep horn for every N-word he would otherwise say. Bleep-bleep-bleep, we truly are at a Day At The Races!
And, much like that historic Marx Brothers film, this story does have deep lagging moments when it seems to be slowed down by it’s own weight. This is despite the expert direction by Lili-Anne Brown that Chicago theater regulars expect, and always get, from her touch. Yet, much as Groucho’s zingers never let you be bored too long, P.Y.G. quickly moves from the script dead spots to a new frollicking satirical moment inviting a belly laugh. For this writer, the most fun actually comes from the commercials, and especially the unexpected cameo by Breon Arzell and Michael Turrentine to sell us White Man’s Shoes.
And, (SPOILER ALERT!) Chisolm’s imagining of Black Lives Matter allies being summoned like an Uber or Lyft is a priceless gem to enrich your memory banks.
Whatever you choose to wear to the theater, know that in this production you mainly are wearing your Whiteness or Blackness, or other POCness variant. If you think about reparations for slavery, this is the comic relief your pain seeks. If you think reparations for slavery is a topic too out there for you, this probably isn’t your top pick show.
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.
Click here to read more Picture This Post Jackalope Theatre stories.
Tevion Devin Lanier (Alexand),
and Garrett Young (Dorian Belle)
Lauren Nichols (scenic designer),
Paul Diezel (projections),
Steve Labedz (projections engineer),
Stefani Azores-Gococo (costume designer),
Jared Gooding (lighting designer),
Emily Hartig (props designer),
Aaron Stephenson (sound designer),
Danielle Stack* (production manager),
Catherine Miller* (casting director),
Devonte Washington (stage manager),
and Kirby Gibson (assistant stage manager)
Through December 21, 2019
Thursdays – Saturdays at 8pm
Sundays at 3:00pm
Broadway Armory Park,
5917 N Broadway