THE SHIPMENT written and directed by Young Jean Lee (Young Jean Lee's Theater Company/World Stage). Enwave Theatre (231 Queens Quay West). Runs to Saturday (May 12) at 8 pm. $15-$45. 416-973-4000. See listing. Rating: NNNN
Beginning with a kind of vaudeville show and ending with a madly funny one-act play, The Shipment tackles racism head on. And as exhilarating and clever as the show is, expect to be squirming in your seat a couple of times.
Written and directed by New York-based theatre artist Young Jean Lee, this World Stage production, featuring a talented company of black performers, looks at attitudes toward people of colour.
And just because it was initially created for an American audience, don't think we Canadians are let off the hook. "Standup Guy" Douglas Scott Streater engages (and sometimes distances) viewers with a routine about how blacks and whites react to each other. Throwing in references to the Stanley Cup, the Leafs and the fact that he's "a Rosedale nigger, born and bred" to be sure we don't sit back complacently and laugh at our neighbours to the south, he aims for a bull's-eye with a reference to "Canadian niggers...First Nations people."
Did you just make a face? Streater's routine, filled with white/black stereotypes and intentionally tasteless jokes, forces viewers do just that, as he has us consider responsibility for our thoughts and actions.
The standup material is part of the production's first half, along with hyperkinetic dance numbers (performed by Prentice Onayemi and Mikéah Ernest Jennings) and an extended sketch about a young man (Jordan Barbour) who dreams of being a star rapper though his mother (Amelia Workman) wants him to be a doctor. The sketch involves a drug dealer, gang wars, prison time and the violence in rap numbers - all grist for the stereotypes mill - and ends with a mesmerizing a cappella trio.
The second part of the 90-minute show is an unsettling comedy, a beautifully acted piece in which Thomas (Streater) throws a party for acquaintances and workmates. There's the jittery Omar (Jennings), the laconic and unemotional Desmond (Onayemi, who gets great laughs with his deep-voiced, flat-toned delivery), the gregarious Thomasina (Workman) and her friend Michael (Barbour), who doesn't know anyone else at the gathering.
The plot's filled with curve balls, embarrassing moments and characters who are amazingly eccentric; alcoholism, exes, loneliness and party games are all part of the storyline. The piece ends with a sting that puts everything into a different perspective; it's impossible not to react with surprise and leave the theatre thinking about and discussing what you've just seen.