BWW Review: A Warm Cup of T with YANKEE PICKNEY at Theater Schmeater

BWW Review: A Warm Cup of T with YANKEE PICKNEY at Theater Schmeater
Jéhan Òsanyìn in "Yankee Pickney"
Photo credit: David Hastings

"Yankee Pickney" is a dynamic relic, a precious time capsule of diaries, photographs, poems, and stories about Jéhan Òsanyìn's complicated relationship with her identity, primarily her racial and ethnic identity. She talks about how her relationship to her race and ethnicity fluctuated depending on where she lived, whether it be in Hershey, Pennsylvania, the Virgin Islands, or on her Semester at Sea trip to Africa. The title of the production itself references her complex identity, as the term comes from the nickname Òsanyìn's grandparent would call her, meaning Americanized child. Òsanyìn mourns the death of her best friend, and discusses how systematic racism has impacted her personally.

Directed by Jimmy Shields, "Yankee Pickney" takes place in what might as well be Jéhan Òsanyìn's actual home. It's unclear whether the performance has started or not, because Òsanyìn shows up before the start of the show and asks audience members whether or not they want some hot tea. She is dressed casually, without shoes, and her dog, Garvey, sits patiently behind her and smiles. Throughout "Yankee Pickney", Garvey casually roams about the space, providing lucky audience members a chance to pet the gentle dog.

This is a multifaceted one-woman show. Òsanyìn incorporates video, photographs, diary reading, spoken-word poetry, accents, props, and song. But it never feels chaotic or jam-packed. From start to finish, Òsanyìn remains cool, collected, and in control. Her storytelling feels organic but still intentional, like a seasoned performer at The Moth. "Yankee Pickney" is endearing, bold, and honest.

The most entertaining and powerful moments in the show are when she reads out loud from her childhood diary. This bold choice to read her angst-ridden tween musings paid off tremendously, sending the audience into a fit of laughter. Òsanyìn, too, gets to laugh at herself along with the audience, making these moments feel very dear. However, she then undercuts the innocence of these moments by playing the infamous dashcam video of Sandra Bland's arrest, showing that such modern horrors have invaded her own memories and identities. The sense of trust between this performer and the audience is profound, making every moment feel like an honor to be apart of.

There are moments where Òsanyìn breaks, but she breaks into a character, rather than mistakenly breaking out of character. By this, I mean that there are a few moments where the storytelling loses the feeling of authenticity when Òsanyìn's tone no longer feels casual and organic but dramatized. For example, while reading from her diary, Òsanyìn sometimes tapers off the entry with a forlorn tone to her voice as if she is reading this sad diary entry for the first time. "Yankee Pickney" succeeds when Òsanyìn is putting her heart on the table, but suffers when she puts on a show.

Whether these stories have been told a million times or never before, Òsanyìn makes you feel honored to be trusted with her story. For earnest and endearing performances both by Jéhan Òsanyìn and Garvey the dog, I give Theater Schmeater's "Yankee Pickney" a moved 4/5 stars. If you're lucky, Garvey will let you pet him during the show!

Yankee Pickney performs at Theater Schmeater through April 1, 2017. For tickets and information, visit them online at www.schmeater.org.

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