Monday, March 13, 2017

Solo show focuses on Black and American experiences

(photo by Dave Hastings)
Yankee Pickney
Written and performed by Jehan Osanyin
Theater Schmeater
Through April 1, 2017

A “yankee pickney” is translated, in this solo show by Jehan Osanyin, as “Americanized child.” Osanyin occasionally translates Jamaican patois to help the audience understand. Yankee Pickney is performing at Theater Schmeater, and it is a brisk 70 minute heart-opening walk through Osanyin’s life.

Solo biographical productions are hard to write about because when you see it, you should gain the information as you watch and not have someone tell you all the “spoilers” in a review. Osanyin’s story is unique and interesting. You are entirely encouraged to attend and hear her story.

Osanyin understands theatrical presentation and how to play with it. She begins by offering tea to her audience and takes time to help everyone become comfortable. Once she starts the story, she palpably creates “her home” on stage – with her goldendoodle at her side – and explores “kinds” of blackness.

She is aware, as we likely are not, that as a Jamaican, she’s not “American black” but is made to inhabit that box by stereotypical association. Even when she tells a story of visiting Africa, when they discover that she doesn’t speak the various African languages, those in countries she visits change their behaviors, dubbing her “American.”

The performance veers through moments of tragedy and quickly returns to poking fun at her young self through diary readings from the small, but preternaturally intelligent girl that she was.  The music choices help her set the time, as well.

Some of her presentation becomes spoken word and movement moments, adding another element to the piece. These are effective and affecting.

Osanyin’s message is a complex one involving race and racial consciousness, and the proliferation of modern attacks by law enforcement on now-familiar national names. She uses projections and bits of film to make points, but at the start of the piece says that she only does so up to a point. Her point – of stopping – is where it gets to triggering for her. She invites the audience to make itself safe, leave the room if you need to, and take care of yourself.

This is kind, and there is no way to anticipate who will need that permission. However, she is true to her word and skirts most of the darkest images or descriptions. The audience is aware that it is there.

The arc of the story is clear. At the beginning, she is trapped by her emotions. As she tells the story, there is a catharsis and by the end, she is able to become untrapped. It’s a simple device. As she is released, we are released with her.

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