Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of The Peculiar Patriot
Chisholm borrows the idea of social transformation from George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalionand there's a scene that My Fair Lady fans will pick up on right awaybut he blends it with the tropes of reality television. His Eliza Doolittle is Dorian Belle (Simon Kiser), a white-bread pop singer from Toronto who wants to develop some street cred. He's placed under the tutelage of thoughtful Alexand Da Great (Gary L Perkins III) and excitable Blacky Blackerson (Seth Hill), a hip-hop duo known as P.Y.G. (Petty Young Goons), and the three of them share a glittering mansion as the cameras roll.
The fascinating thing in Chisholm's vision is that the questions of cultural appropriation cut both ways. The rappers present themselves as products of the rough Chicago streets, but they actually grew up in the suburbs. They went into this television gig to cross over to white audiences, although that includes censoring their language (there's a nifty running gag involving a beeper) and getting pushback from African Americans who think they're selling out. On the other hand, they know their stuff, as they demonstrate while teaching Dorian about how different parts of the country have developed their own versions of hip-hop. Gabriel Clausen wrote the tunes for the performers' songs.
The actors are all fully invested in their roles, helped by Danielle Preston's on-the-nose costumes: Kiser, naïve but determined, doe-eyed in a white blouse with ruffled cuffs and a bow at the neck; Perkins, serious with his cropped hair and baseball cap; and Hill, in a bright shirt and dreadlocks pulled into a crown on top of his head.
But that isn't the only thing Chisholm wants to convey. He periodically interrupts the action with "commercials" for products that either maintain or challenge the status quo, such as "Whiteman Shoes," which allow the wearer to step on other people without even noticing, or two conflicting shortcuts to achieving social consciousness: "DeWoke Spray" and "Stay-Woke Spray." It sounds much heavier-handed than it actually is, supported by Kelly Colburn's projections on the video wall of Richard Ouellette's set.