Stageworks Theatre’s Producing Artistic Director, Karla Hartley, has always been interested in new work. It’s kind of her bread and butter, she tells us during a panel discussion at Seminole Heights Library. She also strives to bring more diversity into our local theater scene. Given these two predilections, it should come as no surprise that Hartley took an interest in David Jacobi’s new play, Ready Steady Yeti Go.
There are many ways one could describe Ready Steady Yeti Go.
“I’ve been telling people it’s a very funny play about racism. Trust me,” jokes Director Dan Granke, “but that doesn’t always go over well.” Granke knows that racism isn’t funny. But oddly enough, this play, which deals with racism, is funny.
“It’s a satire on how liberal middle class white people respond to racism,” says Granke, this time in all seriousness.
Using satire to describe the black experience in America is always risky, due to possible misinterpretations, but it can also be effective. My first exposure to this came in the form of How to be Black — a poignant and humorous memoir from former Onion writer, Baratunde Thurston.
I ordered the book online, and when I went to pick it up in store, I found out it was delayed. Someone had written in my copy of the book, the salesperson told me, embarrassed. I asked if I could see it, and was told, “it’s not pleasant.” I opened the book and there it was, written in the margin, “N- don’t deserve shit.” As a white person, this is the only time I’ve encountered racism, but I know it’s there.
I know it’s there because one, history and two, I believe African Americans when they tell me they’ve experienced racism. It has become a fact of life, carried quietly, by most African Americans. Right up until that moment when you decide to ask them about it.
Two of the Blake High students in Ready Steady Yeti Go have personally experienced racism. De’Ana Chess, who plays Carly in Ready Steady Yeti Go, tells me people have used the "N word" to end arguments with her. DaShawn McClinton, who plays Barry and Wikipedia Jones, tells me he deals with racism, in some form or other, every single day.
Racism isn’t always as obvious as nasty words. One of the things I like about Jacobi’s play (I saw a dress rehearsal) is how it sheds light on many forms of racism. Throughout the play you can see the white characters behaving strangely toward Carly, the play’s African-American lead.
You will see the play’s white characters doubt her, cut her off in conversation, force her to speak for all black people, quote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at her, and tell her how to feel about racism in her town. It’s awkward as hell. Or it would be awkward as hell, if it wasn’t done in such a humorous way.
There were times I found myself laughing and shaking my head at the same time. This is the nature of David Jacobi’s new play: It makes you laugh, it makes you shake your head and it makes you re-think how you treat others.
This is the power of satire. Instead of directly insulting or assaulting idiots and wrongdoers, it makes fun of them. We all laugh. Then we stop and think, “I hope I’ve never said anything that stupid.”
As I watched the nerdy Ms. Apples, played by Blake High’s Hannah Lehrer, stick her foot in her mouth time and time again, I wonder if she’s even thinking at all, and I find myself feel sorry for Carly as her school teacher repeatedly does and says the wrong thing.
When the proverbial curtain goes down, I’m still processing what I’ve seen. It seems Hartley, Granke, and Jacobi are processing as well. Sitting in the back of the theater, they discuss how things went and if there is anything they want to change.
As a National New Play Network rolling premier, Ready Steady Yeti Go will premier in three different US cities. It started at Azuka Theatre in Philly in March, then came to Stageworks, and is headed for LA’s Rogue Machine Theatre next. Jacobi gets to see three different iterations of his play via this process, allowing him to further refine his script, which he hopes to publish someday.
Ready Steady Yeti Go went through about four revisions during Stageworks rehearsals, which Jacobi attended. With the final dress rehearsal complete, Hartley, Granke, and Jacobi were still discussing possible changes. Even the ending isn’t completely safe.
One could call Ready Steady Yeti Go a work in progress, but it’s a work in progress worth seeing.