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BWW Review: P.Y.G. OR THE MIS-EDUMACATION OF DORIAN BELLE at Studio Theatre

BWW Review: P.Y.G. OR THE MIS-EDUMACATION OF DORIAN BELLE at Studio Theatre
Seth Hill, Simon Kiser, and
Gary L. Perkins III in P.Y.G. or the
Mis-Edumacation of Dorian Belle
.
Photo: C. Stanley Photography

Even if you're not familiar with George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, you're most likely familiar with Lerner and Loewe's adaption, My Fair Lady. At the core of both is the classic question of how much can we really change our stripes? Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm gives us a modern take here with his world premiere of P.Y.G. or The Mis-Edumacation of Dorian Belle. The action centers on a hip-hop duo from Chicago, Blacky Blackerson (Seth Hill) and Alexand Da Great (Gary L. Perkins III), better known as P.Y.G, the Petty Young Goons, and a Canadian pop heartthrob, Dorian Belle (Simon Kiser). The unlikely trio is thrown together, in a reality television set up reminiscent of MTV's The Real World, for a "cultural exchange". What ensues is a hard-hitting look at the nature of appropriation, collaboration, race, class, celebrity, and, ultimately, relationships.

Making his directorial debut, Chisholm enfuses each scene with messaging, sometimes overt and sometimes more subtle, but always there. There is no wasted dialogue, no wasted action. Even seemingly minor conflicts, such as whether you're from Chicago or Naperville, are loaded with meaning and consequence. P.Y.G. or The Mis-Edumacation of Dorian Belle is also a very physically demanding piece. The action moves swiftly between scenes, with quick changes and tempo changes abounding. Additionally, each of the three actors is physically very distinct from the others, but all inhabit their respective character in both body and speech.

As the easy-going Blacky Blackerson, Hill's tall and lanky frame expresses well his

BWW Review: P.Y.G. OR THE MIS-EDUMACATION OF DORIAN BELLE at Studio Theatre
Gary L. Perkins III, Simon Kiser, and Seth Hill
in P.Y.G. or the Mis-Edumacation of Dorian Belle.
Photo: C. Stanley Photography

mostly laid back attitude. Yet, it is Blacky, who is most willing to question the status quo as the play progresses. Perkins, as Alexand Da Great, is a powerhouse of energy and anxiety. Alexand is very aware of his position, image, and platform, initially less inclined to rock the boat. Kiser's Dorian Belle is by turns unbelievably clueless and nervously endearing. He reminds you of the stereotypical "cool kid" who is, underneath it all, quite insecure and desperate for affection. Of course, this is also a play about music and musicians...and all three actors have definitely got the moves. Movement coach, Tony Thomas, puts them through their paces, particularly during an exhilarating history lesson on hip-hop, told through dance.

P.Y.G. or The Mis-Edumacation of Dorian Belle, which plays on Stage 4, is part of Studio Theatre's Studio X series, "a collection of purposefully eclectic, encompassing plays enhanced by intimate and immersive stagings." The effect is stunning. From the moment you enter the space, you are cast into the role of live studio audience, complete with overhead "on air" signs, a green screen, and moving cameras helmed by crew members. While setting the mood for the piece, set designer, Richard Oullette, and lighting designer, Jesse Belsky, also draft the audience into the conflict brewing between the three actors. No longer just passive spectators, are we also collaborators and what would that mean?

Kelly Colburn's projection design further evokes the disorientation of reality television - green screen shots, tilted or multiple camera angles, animated wallpaper - can we believe what is right in front of us? It also adds a depth, and at times brevity, to the piece particularly during the faux commercial breaks. Gabriel Clausen's sound design is breathtaking in its geographic and historical scope. And for those who might need a primer in hip-hop...they have you covered.

At almost two hours and no intermission, the play is unrelenting. Chisholm asks some very tough questions throughout and the ending is not a fairy tale or tied up in a nice, neat bow, but it does offer the hope that through engagement and collaboration, perhaps we can begin to evolve as a society.

Playwright and Director Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm

Featuring Seth Hill (Blacky Blackerson), Simon Kiser (Dorian Belle), and Gary L. Perkins III (Alexand Da Great)

Set Design Richard Oullette / Costume Design Danielle Preston / Lighting Design Jesse Belsky / Projections Design Kelly Colburn / Sound Design and Composition Gabriel Clausen / Dramaturg Lauren Halvorsen / Movement Coach Tony Thomas / Production Stage Manager Becky Reed / Casting Alaine Alldaffer / Assistant Director Mari Andrea Travis / Assistant Stage Manager Lauren Pekel

Studio Theatre's world premiere production of P.Y.G. or The Mis-Edumacation of Dorian Belle runs through April 28, 2019. Run time is approximately one hour and 50-minutes with no intermission. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit https://www.studiotheatre.org/plays/play-detail/2018-2019-PYG

P.Y.G. or The Mis-Edumacation of Dorian Belle is supported by Studio R&D.


Additional BroadwayWorld.com coverage of P.Y.G. or The Mis-Edumacation of Dorian Belle includes Jack Read's interview with playwright/director Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm and actors Simon Kiser and Gary L. Perkins III.


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From This Author Sarah Murphy