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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Theatre review: The Shipment is unflinching

Young Jean Lee confronts race with a hammer built from humour and hurt

The Shipment is a pyre masquerading as a theatre show. In it, the cast piles high the mass of assumptions, stereotypes, jokes, and lies that have been thrust upon them by a white-centred society before setting it ablaze with a series of searing set pieces and jokes of their own. The show is sharp, unblinking, and perfectly pitched to reshape the fabric of modern theatre.

Built on the lived experiences of the original cast, playwright Young Jean Lee begins with a monologue disguised as a stand-up comedy routine, pulling no punches with our host (Omari Newton) hitting on race, privilege, and assumption in quick succession. Newton refuses to blink as he stares down the audience and dares them to leave as he hurls racial slurs and heartfelt truth in unequal measure. The show then quickly flips into a sketch parodying the tropes of black characters in mainstream entertainment and ends in a comic realism that shatters in the play’s final moments.

Directors Omari Newton and Kayvon Koshkam have done a wonderful job of using the size and scale of the Firehall to provide a sense of space between these characters, even when the caricatures feel too similar. Omari Newton does double duty as both director and cast member, turning in an incendiary triad of performances that rip at the audience from every angle. Andrew Creightney’s turn as the stock protagonist is subversively endearing, while Chris Francisque shines as a neurotic party guest.

The minimal set by Markian Taraskiuk is evocative and provides the perfect canvas for Itai Erdal’s masterful lighting design to create space out of the darkness. Kayvon Khoshkam ‘s sound design is light-fingered with breaks into abrasive energy that underscores the emotional heights of the show.

The Shipment is an experience that forces a confrontation with assumptions. Assumptions about theatre, narrative, and structure are all enforced and then forgotten in a jarring 75 minutes that leaves you more aware of the theatre, narrative, and structures you have built inside yourself. It is theatre at its very best. See it and watch your expectations revolt.

The Shipment by Young Jean Lee. Directed by Omari Newton and Kayvon Khoshkam. A Firehall Arts Centre presentation of a Speakeasy Theatre production. On stage at the Firehall Arts Centre (280 E Cordova St, Vancouver) until October 5, 2019. Visit for tickets and information.

The Shipment will also play Presentation House Theatre (333 Chesterfield Ave, North Vancouver) from October 8-12. Visit for tickets and information.

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