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“PYG or the Mis-Edumacation of Dorian Belle” is onstage at the Studio Theatre in D.C. and is incredibly engaging and funny to the core. But this play about a white pop singer whose company hires two black rappers to toughen up their artist’s image is deeply layered on many levels.
The social and racial issues addressed by playwright Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm will have one leaving the theater more knowledgeable about such sensitive topics as black oppression, white privilege and racial and cultural appropriation. What starts out as a story focused on Dorian becomes a thoughtful and intelligent treatise on the pros and cons of cultural exchange from the rappers’ point of view, addressing basic social issues that divide blacks and whites.
The talented cast includes Simon Kiser as Dorian Belle, a successful pop singer from Canada, with a squeaky clean image who wants to appeal to a more hip-hop audience. Two rappers from Chicago, the Petty Young Goons, or PYG, get the job of schooling him on the history and culture of hip-hop and the vernacular and attitude that goes with that scene, all while being filmed on a reality TV program.
Seth Hill plays Blacky Blackerson, the angriest of the duo, who initially questions why they should even be taking the job, particularly when he views Dorian as a white privileged male who cannot possibly understand the nuances of the black race.
Gary L. Perkins III plays Alexand Da Great, the more cerebral of the two, who sees the job as an opportunity to broaden cultural understanding and exchange with the pop star, particularly when the job offers an opportunity for the upcoming pair to increase their own public visibility and crossover potential.
Dorian’s genuine love of hip-hop music and a desire to be friends with the rappers wins over Blacky’s doubt, and the show quickly becomes a success. However, even as PYG becomes collaborators with Dorian and co-headliners at his concerts, social issues around race constantly crop up. Blacky’s references to slavery and black woundedness causes Dorian to wonder if Blacky feels inferior, and Blacky cannot fathom why Dorian does not see the impact that slavery has had on blacks. Additionally, Alexand and Blacky begin to get in heated discussions themselves, as when Alexand cautions Blacky about using the “N” word so much in front of Dorian, reasoning that it is acceptable to call each other the “N” word, but not acceptable for Dorian to do so.
Meanwhile, as PYG gains more of the coveted white audience that they sought, their black fan base feels they have sold out. More and more, the pair have had to downplay their own black edginess to appear less threatening to whites.
For this production, Chisholm also chose to direct and has fun turning up the heat at every turn. He cleverly pokes fun at white advertisers that hawk products that promote white supremacy in the reality show’s commercials (i.e. “Whitemen’s shoes allow one to stand on the backs of others with complete obliviousnesss.” Another for “Dewoke Spray” promotes the dumbing down of the user.
Chisholm was inspired by George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” and by the play’s end, Dorian admits that hip-hop is not really his calling, and Blacky, who had become mainly concerned about “getting that white people money,” joins Alexand in stepping up to positively represent the entire black race. “They’re watching,” Alexanda notes. “And it’s our responsibility to make sure we ain’t making black folks look terrible.”
“PYG” features terrific music, dynamic visuals and explosive dancing by Hill and Perkins that showcases their fabulous talent. A highlight of the show is the pair’s explanation of how rap styles can differ from city to city, coast to coast or even from one country to another.
If planning to attend, be forewarned: If one has a problem with the “N” word, it is used in abundance during the 90 minute production.
The show runs through April 28.