Review by Brittany Crowell

JORDANS at the Public Theater starts off with a whirlwind of creative agency-isms: a sulking model poses in front of a large cyclorama; a group of bros film themselves gallivanting and chugging an energy drink; a Gen-Z pop star is filmed twerking and dancing against a purple-lit backdrop.  Meanwhile, receptionist Jordan is left to clean up their messes, while dreaming of being given a chance to prove that she is larger than the role they (and society) have placed her in.

In Act 1 of Jordans by Ife Olujobi, microaggressions in the workplace are portrayed on a macro-scale: a poorly sweetened coffee is poured over Jordan’s head by the cruel studio head, empty coffee cups are unceremoniously thrown at her, and employees rudely snap their fingers to silently demand their lunch.  Jordan handles all of this with grace, as the only person of color in the office is treated like the help and forced to “slave away,” literally lifting heavy furniture above her head and carrying it up the stairs as the white women of the office complain about carrying the weight of the studio on their shoulders.

When the cruel studio head Hailey (played with coy malice by Kate Walsh) calls an emergency meeting to discuss the need for broadening the studio’s horizons and finding relevancy among “other cultures,” the studio moves forward with hiring (another) Jordan, a black man, as the director of culture for the studio.  What follows is a cringe-worthy look at white misstep under a microscope; the zoomed in lens creating an almost humorous look at the ridiculous (and awful) way that black people are treated, cast aside, and utilized only for the benefit of white leadership in the workplace.  Jordan looks to Jordan to help him get his bearings in this new environment, but the two Jordans have very different approaches to survival in the white system, and find themselves battling each other for Hailey’s attention rather than lifting each other up.

Led by Jordan (played by Naomi Lorrain and Toby Onwumere), the piece finds strength in contrasting the different perspectives of the two Jordans while pitting them against the pitiful and whiny group of studio creatives: played humorously by Brontë England-Nelson, Brian Muller, Matthew Russell, Ryan Spahn, and Meg Steedle.  The strong cast lives within a set design by Matt Saunders that feels so realistic that almost believed the painted white brick was a part of the space itself.  Lighting and sound by Cha See and Fan Zhang respectively bring surrealist textures to the natural environment; and costumes and wigs by Qween Jean and Nikiya Mathis highlight the creative studio environment with perfectly exaggerated tones.

In the second act of the piece, the fabric of reality begins to unravel and the surreal interactions take a deeper toll on the story as the Jordans fight each other for a place at the creative table. This battle for power ends up costing everyone in the end, proving in a violent and bloody finale that no one is winning within the current racist structures and systems that we have in place.

Olujobi’s writing is astute, insightful, and shocking; though the piece begins to unravel in its focus throughout the second half.  What starts as a poignant and pointed perspective begins to fall apart as its focus loosens in an attempt to squeeze slightly too much into the lens. 

Still, Jordans presents a worthy perspective with lots to unpack.  How do we unlock the door and let ourselves out of the complex?  The play doesn’t have solutions to offer, though it creatively and surreally poses the depth of the problem to the audience – spoiler alert, the troubles run deep.  Jordans leaves us to question how we take part in this harmful system and how it may be hurting us and those around us.

 

JORDANS –  by Ife Olujobi; directed by Whitney White

FEATURING: Brontë England-Nelson; Britt Faulkner; Quinn M. Johnson; Devin Kessler; Naomi. Lorrain; Brian Muller; Toby Onwumere; Matthew Russell; Ryan Spahn; Meg Steedle; Kai Thomani Tshikosi; and Kate Walsh

Scenic design by Matt Saunders; costumes by Qween Jean; lighting by Cha See; sound design and original compositions by Fan Shang; hair and wig design by Nikiya Mathis; special effects by Lillis Meeh; properties management by Claire M. Kavanah.  Produced by The Public Theater: Osckar Eustis, artistic director; Patrick Willingham, executive director.  https://publictheater.org/productions/season/2324/jordans/