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Thursday July 7th

'Shipment' performance in Memorial Hall causes laughter, discomfort

Mikeah Ernest Jennings is one of the actors in Young Jean Lee’s “The Shipment.” Courtesy of Carolina Performing Arts
Buy Photos Mikeah Ernest Jennings is one of the actors in Young Jean Lee’s “The Shipment.” Courtesy of Carolina Performing Arts

Arts Verdict: 3.5 of 5 Stars

Young Jean Lee’s “The Shipment” forced laughs from some and led others to leave the play early Friday night in Memorial Hall.

Scenes of dance, stand-up comedy, song and skits raised important questions about racism and the black experience.

Though the performance brought some laughs, its unnerving comments and commentary stayed with the audience after the show.

The night started with a haphazard yet humorous abstract dance routine performed by two of the actors.

Then Jordan Barbour gave a stand-up routine that directly addressed racism and social inequalities through lewd jokes full of expletives.

Several audience members seemed offended and left during this scene, which was within three minutes of the start of the show.

During the routine, Barbour said that he now speaks “black” because people used to accuse him of trying to act white because of his speech.

He joked that he was going to continue speaking “black” because he was more intimidated of black people than white people.

Comedy and tragedy were juxtaposed in the skits to illuminate the trials of being black in today’s society. In one scene, the comic mood of the moment was shattered by the sudden shooting of one of the actors.

The stage was empty, with only a spotlight shining on the actors. The minimalist set forced the raw emotions of the actors to stand out during the performance.

The actors wore well-fitted suits and dresses throughout the entire show and had few costume changes.

The costume choice was particularly interesting in the second skit in which an aspiring young rapper, Omar, sells drugs to pay for a rap competition and is arrested. The suits, vests and ties contrasted the inner-city life the actors portrayed.

The performance used some music to introduce scenes including pieces from Lil Jon and Mary J. Blige. Each song fit the theme of the scene.

In one of the most memorable scenes, after a scene of violence, death and drugs, the actors stared at different members of the audience for more than two minutes in complete silence, creating a tense and uncomfortable atmosphere.

Then a trio proceeded to sing Modest Mouse’s “Dark Center of the Universe” in a solemn tone, the singers’ voices perfectly synced.

For the last skit, the stage crew assembled the set of a living room piece by piece in an almost painfully slow process. In the final scene of this skit, one character has a house party that devolves into a game involving racist stereotypes.

The performance was successful and addressed racial issues in unexpected ways. The mix of comedy and drama created an entertaining and uncomfortable evening.

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