Often, when I see projects that make audiences uncomfortable, I feel so isolated from the creators of the work. Because Young Jean Lee sets out to develop a play that is last possible thing she wants to write, I feel a deep connection to her anger, confusion, and lack of agency within the topic she is tackling. Early this month, I saw The Shipment, an African-American identity-politics show, written by Young Jean Lee, a Korean-American. Structurally,The Shipment mirrors Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven, presented at Out There in 2007. In the first section, she floods the audience in a deluge of stereotypes, and once our political senses have been sufficiently placed off-kilter, her second act is a seemingly unrelated realistic drama. In both cases, she facilitates an experience of heightened racial consciousness within a traditional narrative form (see also: institutionalized white hegemony), especially poignant in a society which now is purporting itself to be “post-race.”
The young playwright has had an incredible start to 2009, being named a Creative Capital grantee, extending The Shipment‘s sold-out run at The Kitchen in NYC, receiving glowing reviews in The New York Times and The New Yorker, and touring CHURCH to the Walker, which wraps up Out There this weekend.
Young Jean Lee has already started to leave an indelible mark with her first three major works Dragons, CHURCH, and now The Shipment. I highly recommend checking out CHURCH, which opens tomorrow night.
Young Jean Lee’s work is often very funny – and we’re not really sure when its supposed to be. She’s one of those rare artists who risks failure in front of an audience, and failure is funny – maybe. Her work exists in a world that dares us to laugh – is she ironic? frighteningly sincere? In a Young Jean Lee performance, the audience’s laughter reveals as much about the human spirit and current cultural climate as what happens on stage.
I hope you can get tickets to this very special performance. Wish I could be there to laugh (or not) along with you.