Day 19: Young Jean Lee

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Am I getting tired? Art overdose? The fact is: boy, was I glad that after two weeks of the KunstenFestival some rock guitars came blasting through the speakers. Two black guys dancing on Semisonic’s Fascinating new thing. Just what I needed. The opening scene of Young Jean Lee’s entertaining piece The shipment.

‘I think that dealing with race in art is kind of impossible, and I think that people are already weirder and more defensive about racism against black people than they are about other kinds of racism.’ Young Jean Lee in an interview with New York-website The Gothamist. Interesting quote. I know of a few who won’t agree with the first part. And the second part makes it clear that her work is rooted in American culture. Over here, we surely know a thing or two about other kinds of racism.

Nevertheless, the New York-based playwright/director deals with those issues in an elegant way in The shipment, a show that looks at how African-Americans are perceived and portrayed in mass media. You get a foul-mouthed stand-up comedian, making jokes about the differences between white and black people, there’s a cartoon-like scène about a boy dreaming of becoming a famous rapper, and, out-of-the-blue, a fantastic a capella-version of Modest Mouse ‘s Dark center of the universe.

The second part of the evening is a highly amusing naturalistic play, on the verge of the absurd, about a cocktail party. It’s an absolute joy to see the five gifted actors deliver their lines with straight faces. Rather scary (and funny) too to see how their approach resembles the work of the Brussels-based theatre company Tristero.

Young Jean Lee clearly doesn’t want to bang her audience on the head with her views on racism, and that’s a good thing. But even then: this is a piece that will make American audiences think more about the issues presented here, than European. And The shipment might disappoint theatregoers over here, who are used to more wrenching affairs. But the undeniable fact is: she sure knows how to entertain. And that’s a compliment.

(photo credit: Academie Anderlecht – Tracy Richards)

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