The Shipment was a play that I had been waiting to see since freshman year when Ilana mentioned it was playing at the ICA and I missed it. The premise was fascinating: a Korean-American playwright with the task of creating a black identity-politics devised theatre piece. The play deals with many of the images and tropes that are associated with black entertainment (specifically comedy and movies), and then subverts them (with a sitcom of white people, played by African-Americans). I viewed the play on ontheboards.tv.
My first reaction to the play was that it was a one trick pony. I had my laugh at the end, when it was revealed that the characters in the sitcom were actually white, and noted that it commented on how ridiculous it was that the media only portrays certain “black experiences” like the young-kid-from-the-projects-who-wants-to-become-a-rapper-but-gets-caught-up-in-drugs-and-violence. However, one aspect of the sitcom scene stayed with me: the fact that everyone at this lovely little get together ignores the fact that one of the characters admits to contemplating suicide. The stakes of the sitcom were stretched farther than anything I have ever seen on TV, and yet all of his friends play it off as if it was a joke and continue on to play their game. Again, my first reaction to the play was that the entire sitcom section was just a set-up for the last line (about “everyone being white”), but I began to realize that by making the characters white, the experience of a black person who is living with depression is invalidated. Most depictions of suicide in the news and entertainment media are of white people, and just as we are about to see on stage the experience of an African-American living with depression, his experience is invalidated first by the other party-goers, and then by the anagnorisis at the last line.
What further drives home this point is how then the only “black” narratives that are given wide viewership are ones like the movie that are delivered in dead-pan before we see the sitcom. When we consume only that one facet of entertainment, we rob the full range of emotion and experience that we all are capable of.