It's not too late: Take a good, hard, long look at yourself
Local Black dancer/choreographer Markeith Wiley’s experimental “TV talk show” portrays him as Dushawn Brown, “Seattle’s first black talk show host”. Brown interviews guests and uses mordant humor to prod its audience to reflect on private and latent prejudices. Was Markeith Wiley’s “It’s Not Too Late” able to spark introspection in its Seattle audience?
In the intimate setting of OtB’s Studio Theater, people slowly made their way to their seats and waited for the performance to start. An inert Markeith/Dushawn sat face down on his desk. The master-shadow, dressed in black from head to toe, lay face down on the floor. The producer, assistant, and DJ went about the stage preparing the set for the show. At one point the producer addressed the “live studio audience” (us) and asked us to sing and dance along a song trolling on the most stereotypical and infuriating behaviors of “Seattleites” (bad driving, conflict avoidance, passive aggression). Markeith/Dushawn was then woken up by the master-shadow who imperiously puppeteered him into the expected fun Black show host/minstrel of the night.
The audience did not exactly receive “the merciless humor of comedian and social critic Paul Mooney” as advertised. Markeith was kinder than Paul Mooney in word choice and joke delivery. It must be noted that this audience was mostly White; a more racially inclusive group may have changed the experience for both actors and audience. Markeith’s mode of delivery somewhat echoed liberal White Seattle’s timid and passive-aggressive communication style. However, as Markeith’s character unraveled from the amicable Black show host (culminating in a kind of nervous breakdown), he challenged his White audience on its guilt-assuaging reactions to racist events (e.g. using safety pins as shibboleth, changing Facebook profile photos to black, and doing other symbolic things that mark them as “good liberal people”). Its response was telling - there was a little fidgeting, a little wariness, a little self-consciousness by those who recognized themselves in the jabs. Markeith should have gone more strongly in this direction, by including more Seattle-specific topics, cleverly involving them further in the performance, confronting them with their own inner personas and not letting go.
There were moments where I saw Dushawn Brown, as described by the press and OtB’s materials, but most of the time I saw Markeith Wiley. They are both similar enough that sometimes Markeith fused seamlessly with Dushawn. This performance was directed by both Markeith and Hatlo, but Markeith’s touch was very present throughout. While his acting needs to be more polished, it is clear his genius lies in dancing. His use of choreographed movement and mirror dances à la Miike Snow in Genghis Khan was a really good vehicle to deliver the core message in the middle of all his talking - a world that requires Black Entertainment™ for laughter, enjoyment, and pop consumption, in exchange for mere survival. A classic panem et circenses cycle by White supremacy to keep minorities under the yoke of their oppression, with frequent comic relief at their own expense. An insistence on dispensing with people of color when they do not uphold White society’s expectations.
One of the best parts of “It’s Not Too Late” is Markeith’s inclusion of local artists. The show invites different artists every night and I can only imagine how these guests changed the energy and tension of the performance as a whole. Rapper Ryan Vinson was one of the invited guests on the night I attended. At one point he and Markeith turned to the white wall behind them to “watch” a video clip of Ryan’s newest work. People laughed as they exchanged comments on the invisible video; it reminded me of the emperor’s-new-clothes-moments pervasive in the art world. In actively including his community Markeith walks the talk; people of color receiving opportunities from each other touches me deeply. I want to see more of this community-building-for-everyone-to-see. I want to see more artists of color showing others how it’s done. In the best sense, Markeith used his creation as a vehicle to showcase local Black talent without specific or overworked commentary and on this vein maintained a platform where the show worked for him and his community. Everyone else was just lucky to watch.
Ultimately, this was a new thing to experience. A bit therapeutic under the circumstances and not as challenging as expected, but I hope next time Markeith goes hard for discomfort and painful truths, no more playing the “safe Black friend” (as he put it), Seattle deserves a good artistic challenge to shake it out of its shell. I am also happy to report that Markeith never resorted to sophomoric comedic tactics, e.g. demeaning women, to lead people to the water. “It’s Not Too Late” was ultimately less a comedy than a sociopolitical commentary show, which is not the way it was advertised. I do hope it is not too late for introspection and action but the clock is ticking fam, the clock is ticking.
November 16 - 20, 2016
- Concept by: Markeith Wiley
- Directed by: Markeith Wiley and Hatlo
- Venue: On the Boards
- Review Lead: Andrea Iaroc | Review Team: Laura Chrisman, Steph Hankinson, Sara Porkalob