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THEATER REVIEW P.Y.G. or The Mis-Edumacation of Dorian Belle
by Jonathan Abarbanel, Windy City Times
2019-11-13

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Playwright: Tearrance Arvelle Chisolm

At: Jackalope Theatre Company @ Broadway Armory Park, 5917 N. Broadway. Tickets: JackalopeTheatre.org; $27-$35. Runs through: Dec. 21

This high-energy new play from Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm ( Hooded: Or Being Black for Dummies ) provides a dissertation on who can or cannot say, write or even think the n-word. Whites are forbidden, no surprise. Beyond that, P.Y.G. is a lively work of satire about cultural appropriation, which can flow both ways across the black/white divide. At the end, a serious message supporting Black Lives Matter feels tacked on, despite being appropriate.

Dorian Belle ( Garrett Young ) is a tattooed Canadian pop sensation ( think Justin Bieber ), now aging from boy to man, who embraces hip-hop to change his image. To that end Dorian contracts P.Y.G., a successful street-wise rap duo, to teach him black style. "Hip-hop is Blackness but not all Blackness is hip-hop," they advise, to which Dorian insists, "I want to be whatever kind of N-word you guys are."

Thing is, Alexand Da Great ( Tevion Devin Lanier ) and Blacky Blackerson ( Eric Gerard ) aren't sure themselves. They say they're South Side Chicago but really are from Naperville. Privately they ask some basic questions. "The greatest paradox to the American Negro is why we call ourselves by the n-word," Alexand observes, to which Blacky replies, "We are taking possession." "Yeah, but of what?" Alexand counters.

Eventually the three record together and are asked to headline a mammoth music festival as their cultures influence each other. Visiting Canada with Dorian, Blacky—the more in your face P.Y.G. partner—embraces skiing, arugula ( he likes Gordon Ramsey ) and the opportunity for P.Y.G. to become crossover artists, gaining a vast new ( white ) audience and big bucks. Projected tweets, however, indicate that the P.Y.G. base audience sees this as a sell-out, driving a wedge between Blacky and Alexand.

Much of the play is presented as a reality TV show about Dorian's transition, so Chisolm has created outrageous TV commercials for "White Man's Shoes" ( allowing one to step ahead of, or on, others ), truth cancelling DeWoke Spray and rentable white guys to make black events appear safely integrated.

In the closing minutes, Dorian backs out of the festival rather than present a Black Lives Matter ( BLM ) message with P.Y.G. After all, Dorian is Canadian, non-political and white. It's a weak argument, especially since BLM—obviously unsuitable for satire—hasn't been mentioned by Alexand or Blacky up until then.

Director Lili-Anne Brown is perfect for this work. She handles its musical moments well and has inspired Lanier and Gerard to really feed off each other's energy and personality. Stefani Azores-Gococo's multi-patterned, colorful costumes are dazzlers and the dreads and huge Afro hair styles are perfect. Aaron Stephenson's original music channels rap and Bieber pop equally well, and there are superb, animated projections by Paul Deziel, engineered by Steve Labedz.


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