Review: ‘The Shipment’ is a Riotous Reality Check

Young Jean Lee’s The Shipment opened last night for a second run in Vancouver—a fact the play’s co-director and cast member, Omari Newton, wasn’t afraid to point out. “Y’all lazy motherf*ckers waited for the remount!” he cried during the first part of the show, a stand-up routine very colourful in language (both the swear-wise and race-wise). In fact, if you’re easily offended by topics like systemic racism, privilege, stereotypes, depression, or sweaty comedians… you should see this show anyway.

The cast of five (Newton, Chris Francisque, Kiomi Pyke, Adrian Neblett, and Andrew Creightney) tackles The Shipment—a 75-minute exploration of black identity through comedy, dance, song, and sketch—with a tenacious, explicit, unapologetic spirit. The original production was a collaboration between the Korean-American playwright and an all-black cast. After conversations around stereotypes and identity, the play was written in two parts: the first is a bit like a cabaret, and addresses stereotypes the cast felt they had to deal with as black performers, and the second is a naturalistic comedy where each cast member played a role they had always wanted to play.

Even though the show, directed by Newton and Kayvon Khoshkam, is a comedy, there are times that the audience will feel uncomfortable. As a female-identifying, mixed-race millennial who spent a large part of university taking classes like “Critical Racial and Anti-Colonial Feminist Approaches,” I still felt myself shift in my seat during moments particularly rich in negative stereotypes (plus every time someone said the N word). But the way I experienced this production, of course, is different than every other person in the audience. There were times when only one individual would laugh at a joke (was that a joke? Am I allowed to laugh at that?) and scattered but vigorous nodding and shaking of heads could be heard throughout the show. The themes in The Shipment are uncomfortable by nature, and parts of the production compound that discomfort. For example, a portion of the first half of the show feels a bit like watching a bizarre elementary school play, with characters speaking at the audience with a robotic lack of emotion—it’s jarring, considering the sketch covers topics like sex, drugs, incarceration, and gun violence.

From start to finish, the The Shipment feels like a celebration and a callout—a bittersweet, necessary discomfort. There were parts that were hard to watch, but impossible not to. No matter how “woke” you think you are, I’d still recommend this production. We can always get woker.

The Shipment

Now through October 5
Firehall Arts Centre
Tickets $33 for adults, $28 for seniors and students, $20 for artists/under 30