Live review: Young Jean Lee's The Shipment at MCA
In the first of three movements of Lee's fragmented piece (with a danced introduction and a musical interlude), actor Douglas Scott Streater performs an intentionally over-the-top abrasive stand-up comedy routine that recalls the work of black comics from Richard Pryor to Dave Chappelle, with more than a passing nod to Andrew Dice Clay. The monologue also carries a touch of stand-up menace in its heightened-to-the-extreme take on the "white people do this, black people do that" form. My seatmate, an older white gentleman, grew increasingly agitated by Streater's routine, to the point of full-voice utterances that Streater was "being a jerk"; he soon grabbed his coat and headed for the exit, loudly calling Streater "asshole." Streater, an original cast member of The Shipment who helped develop the show, was clearly shaken; taking a beat or three to regain his place, he told us this was the first time anyone had vocalized their displeasure that way. Someone else shouted from behind me, "That's Chicago!" Through the rest of the 90-minute show, which moves on to a wannabe-rap-star narrative that plays like a guided tour of African-American stereotypes, followed by a longer cocktail-party one-act that might represent Lee's and her cast's most subversive statement about the modern American theater, I found myself absorbed by the onstage action but also hyper-aware of the reactions around me. What were black audience members laughing at? What were white audience members permitting themselves to find funny? And how was I, as a white, gay, middle-class, college-educated male who grew up in the South, performing my own response? I found myself in a room that looked almost as black as it was white, with dots of Latina, Middle Eastern and South Asian, for a show that directly addressed race, racism and racial identity. That's a very rare situation for me—and that's Chicago, too. Lee's The Shipment continues Saturday 27 at 7:30pm and Sunday 28 at 3pm; tickets $25, MCA members $20, students $10; mcachicago.org or 312-497-4010.