Defacing Michael Jackson uses a pop star and his fans as a metaphor for modern America | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

Defacing Michael Jackson uses a pop star and his fans as a metaphor for modern America 

Five young people try their best to find a measure of grace in a society temperamentally unsuited to it.

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Emily Schwartz

Flying Elephant Productions presents the Chicago premiere of Aurin Squire's award-winning 2014 comedy, about a tight-knit group of friends whose bond is broken when a white boy moves into their black neighborhood in a small Florida town and joins their Michael Jackson fan club.

Obie (Christopher Taylor), the protagonist, opens the play with a monologue listing 9/11, the Great Recession, and host of other cultural touchstones America had yet to reach in 1984, the year the play is set. But it was Michael Jackson, he says, who was the lodestar and symbol of the delusions and excesses of that era. Frenchy (Jory Pender), the president of the fan club, has a schoolgirl crush on Obie, but it's ne'er-do-well twins, Red and Yellow (both played by Eldridge Shannon III), who pine away for her. When Wes (Sam Martin) shows up, he upends the group's equilibrium. They start out mocking him, calling him Jack—short for Crackerjack—but Obie can't help but be drawn to the newcomer. Wes makes Obie aware of his own sexual confusion while at the same time laying bare their fundamental differences. Wes thinks that their shared love for the King of Pop is enough to bridge the divide—including his own inbred racism—but he's emphatically proven wrong.

Michael Jackson is a great metaphor for the many problems that continue to plague this country: a man born black, struggling with all his being to transcend race, gender, class, and perhaps even any recognizable human form. Squire has no solution for this quandary—either Jackson's or ours—but ably presents five young people trying their best to find a measure of grace in a society temperamentally unsuited to it. Alexis J. Roston directed.   v

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