P.Y.G. or The Mis-Edumacation of Dorian Belle
Time Out says
Theater review by Alex Huntsberger
In George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, the puffed-up linguist Henry Higgins holds all the cards as he tries to mold cockney flower-seller Eliza Doolittle into a respectable lady. Terreance Arvelle Chisolm’s riotous update, P.Y.G. or The Mis-Edumacation of Dorian Belle, shuffles the deck. Instead of the hard-luck Eliza, there is a Justin Beiber–esque Canadian pop idol, Dorian (Garrett Young), who wants to add hip-hop edge to his lily-white sound. And in Higgins’s shoes are two rising indie rappers, Alexan Da Great (Tevion Devin Lanier) and Blacky Blackerson (Eric Gerard), who have been hired to help Dorian and to have their efforts filmed for a reality show. In the age of wokeness and cultural appropriation, nothing is as simple as it used to seem.
P.Y.G. revels in the contradictions of the situation it imagines: It’s a verbose comedy and a searching social drama in one restlessly theatrical package. After an explosive first meeting in the highrise penthouse/reality-TV set that the three men now share, the play proceeds as a series of negotiations. (The eggheaded Alexan, for example, convinces the brash Blacky to stop using the n-word.) Though initially wary of the set-up, Blacky comes around to its potential and develops a starry bromance with Dorian—but Alexan is unable to shake the feeling that the whole endeavor is setting them back.
If P.Y.G. sometimes gets bogged down in the minutiae of modern wokeness, that’s because it’s taking the subject seriously. (Head-scratching dilemmas and occasional tedium come with this territory.) It helps that the play is very funny, especially in commercials for products like “white man’s shoes” and “de-woke spray” that play between scenes. These are just some of the many theatrical flourishes that Chisolm employs, giving the play an unruly structure that matches its renegade spirit. Director Lili-Anne Brown unleashes her talented cast on Chisolm’s material, letting the actors tear into the jokes and the drama with equal fervor. But that never comes off as chewing the scenery (which is fortunate, since Lauren Nichols’s set perfectly captures the glossy aesthetic of reality TV). Arvelle’s script demands just this kind of energy. As it bounces between woke comedy of manners, hip-hop love letter and bracing dissection of structural racism, the play’s fury and humor mix into a single, unstoppable beat.
Jackalope Theatre Company. By Terreance Arvelle Chisolm. Directed by Lili-Anne Brown. With Eric Gerard, Tevion Devin Lanier, Garrett Young. Running time: 1hr 40mins. No intermission.