Review: The Shipment (Young Jean Lee’s Theater Company)

The Shipment - Young Jean Lee's Theater Company

When I read that The Shipment “dissects what it means to be black in America in this hilarious and shocking play” I immediately wanted to see it. Hilarious racism? Is it possible? Yes, it is. The Shipment is hilarious. It’s only playing until Saturday so get your ticket now. Cancel a prior engagement if you have to. This is one of the most amazing pieces of theatre that I’ve ever seen.

Any play about being black in North America is bound to make you squirm in places; the risk is that it’s also going to deliver a lot of heavy-handed lessons. I really don’t want to feel as if I’ve been hit by a hammer. The Shipment is never heavy handed. It’s theatrical, lyrical, and very funny; subtle lessons coated in sugar. Harbourfront World Stage scores again.

Young Jean Lee writes plays in collaboration with members of her theatre company. This production is played by the original cast so I would imagine that they had a fair amount to do with the creation of the piece. The cast is fabulous, gorgeous in evening clothes and all playing multiple parts.

The show has three main parts; a stand-up routine, a short morality play about a would-be rapper, and a longer play about a yuppie party. After the rapper segment Amelia Workman, Jordan Barbour and Prentice Onayemi perform a haunting a capella version of Dark Center of the Universe.

The stand up section – performed by Douglas Scott Streater is lewd, crude, angry and funny.  I suspect that his ‘poop face’ is going to stay with me for years. This part of the show is the most heavy handed but it’s also kind of what I expected in a show about being black in America. There are a couple of local references thrown in to remind us that the show isn’t just about the US.

In the rapper segment we meet a young man who tells his mother that he doesn’t want to be a doctor; he wants to be a rapper. We follow him as he meets a drug dealer who convinces him to sell crack to finance his career, is arrested, goes to jail, gets out and becomes famous, and finally realizes that his life is hollow nothingness. Definitely a morality play with the cast in evening clothes. Something from upside down world.

We watch 2 stagehands set up a tasteful yuppie living room. It’s Michael’s 30th birthday and he’s invited a few friends to celebrate with him. It has a sit-com feel to it with undercurrents that we know are going to lead at least to huge embarrassment. Mikeah Ernest Jennings is brilliant as Michael’s friend Omar, full of tics and quirks. He bugged me immensely in the beginning and then grew on me until he became my favourite character in this very funny piece. Great surprise ending.

It’s possible that no two people will leave The Shipment with the same thing. You may see yourself in the piece; you may not. It may change some of the things you believe; it may not. You will laugh though, that’s pretty much guaranteed.

As I mentioned, this is a short run so plan accordingly.

WARNING: Mature language – not suitable for children.


– The Shipment is playing at the Enwave Theatre (231 Queen’s Quay West) until Saturday, May 12th.
– Performances are at 8 pm and are 90 minutes long with no intermission.
– Tickets are $45.00
– Tickets can be purchased online, by phone at 416-973-4000, or in person at the box office.

Photo of  The Shipment