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The Shipment

The VIVID LIVE program present THE SHIPMENT at the Playhouse at the Sydney Opera House. Part of the VIVID Live program curated by Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed.

THE SHIPMENT is a production from the Young Jean Lee Theater Company. Young Jean Lee is the writer and director and is of Korean-American background. The reputation of her company in dealing with social-political issues and observations is quite and quietly growing around the theatre ‘fringes’ of the United States. THE SHIPMENT is a ‘variety’, vaudeville type program: dances, Stand –up comedy, short sketches, song and finally an extended playlet. It reminded me of the Twentieth Century Fox Television show of the early nineties IN LIVING COLOR put together by the Wayans brothers, Shawn and Marlon. This was followed in the mid-nineties by another show called THE WAYANS BROTHERS, of a similar ilk, that launched the careers of many comedians including Jamie Fox and James (Jim) Carrey (one of only two regular white performers).These two television shows created around a construction of song and dance (the much missed FLY GIRLS – Jennifer Lopez, introduced herself to my consciousness!!), sketches and extended ‘plays’ to satirise and expose and culturally provoke discussion and awareness on racial (black) – identity , stereotyping and prejudice. Television with vision and courage – imagine!!!

THE SHIPMENT opens with some mildly wry ‘dancing’ by two of the performers,(Choreography, Faye Driscoll) and then segues into an extremely provocative Stand-Up comedy routine by a charming but foully ‘potty-mouthed’ storm-trouper of cultural taboos, performed confidently by Douglas Scott Streater. Just how to receive, absorb and/or appreciate the material is a very interesting experience in an Australian context. Having lived in The USA this was a slightly familiar bombardment of laughter in a very sensitive tissue of barbed and uncomfortable truths of prejudice and attitudes. Those about me in the theatre seemed to be willing to laugh but were more than slightly unsure at how much or just what is ok to respond to. The recent/present Rugby League/Sport RACE scandals and the ‘comedy’ of the network football shows certainly surfaced in my consciousness. Theatre of stomach and brain churning dimensions – visceral and cause for self-assessment pause.

Following was a very clever sketch charting the career of a young man who wishes to be a hip hop /rock star – the early difficulties, limitation of talent,, the introduction to the drug world, the dealers , the customers , the victims, the dead, the nurturing to award winning fame by suspect managers etc. No props or setting, nothing but wittily observed characteristics of both character and culture were employed for a ‘dead on the mark’ creativity for believability and humour resulting in satiric accuracy of an astringent kind. A song, I was not sure of its intent, except of a demonstration of a cappella beauty and skill, was next.

Finally, a living room set (Set Design ,David Evans Morris; Costumes, Roxana Ramseur) is constructed by the crew and the five performers, Amelia Workman, Douglas Scott Streater, Jordan Barbour, Mikeal Ernest Jennings, and Prentice Onayemi play out a playlet of an almost TV sit-com recreation (think the Cosby Show) of a drink gathering of work mates in the apartment of one of them, that gradually spins into the familiar games of ‘get the guest’, that ends in a “gotcha” moment, well telegraphed, for the knowing, before it lands. It is hilarious and intermittingly uncomfortable, unsettling for its careering side tracks in genre.

The performances of this tightly wrought group of actors were excellent, impeccably rehearsed and disciplined – of consummate skill. The textual deliveries alongside physical comedy ‘reaction’ expertise of these artists are an object lesson of comedy technique. The ultra-sensitive contortions of Mr Jennings as Omar were delicious. The consistency of the dead pan choices of Mr Onayemi as the emotionally uptight Desmond, breathtakingly admirable for the sheer discipline and bravado. Ms Workman’s understated ‘politician’ Thomasina; Mr Streater’s disturbed host, Thomas, and the accidental guest ,Michael by Mr Barbour, demonstrated the expertise of the function of feeds and joke-landers of the comedy milieu.

Politically edgy, the night still resulted in a kind of elation that only comedy of such accuracy, both in the writing and acting can give. One left the space vividly charged with the energies of the world as a hopeful and optimistic possibility.

Two nights of comedy, this month, THE SHIPMENT, and the less skilfully performed BEDROOM FARCE up at the Darlinghurst Theatre, but still two nights, that on leaving the theatre, gave one the fillip to face the real world with some new zest and hope. Hmmmmm. More of it, I reckon.