Stage Door Review

seven methods of killing kylie jenner

Friday, May 17, 2024


by Jasmine Lee-Jones, directed by Jay Northcott

Obsidian Theatre with Crow’s Theatre, Streetcar Crowsnest, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto

May 16-June 2, 2024

Kara: “You don’t own blackness just because you have dark skin”

Obsidian Theatre in association with Crow’s Theatre is presenting the Canadian premiere of seven methods of killing kylie jenner by Black British playwright Jasmine Lee-Jones. It was Lee-Jones’s first play and became a major hit at London’s Royal Court Theatre where it had its world premiere in 2019 and again when it was remounted in 2021. The play is a biting satire of social media and Gen Z’s obsession with it, and it is a survey of all the issues surrounding Blackness and queerness that confront young people today. Lee-Jones was only 20 when she wrote the play so she is a member of the generation she analyzes. While the issues Lee-Jones explores are perennial, the social media platform that gives the play its plot and language is out of date.

The plot concerns the relationship of Cleo and Kara, two 21-year-old Black women in 2019. Cleo is in a rage and has holed herself up in her bedroom. The object of her hatred is Kylie Jenner, a media star who would have been 22 at the time of the action. I will confess that I am so ignorant with regards to celebrity news that I thought “Kylie Jenner” was a fictional character until I googled the name after the show. As it turns out, it is not really that important to the show whether “Kylie Jenner” is real or not.

Two things have Cleo riled. One is that Jenner describes herself as a self-made billionaire when in reality she was born into wealth. The other is that Jenner, a White person, made a fortune by popularizing thick lips as a fashion, while Cleo knows that she and other Black women have been reviled for centuries for that attribute. Cleo sees this as yet another example of White people appropriating an aspect of Blackness for their own gain while still deriding Black people.

Out of her anger and frustration, Cleo posts tweets on her @INCOGNEGRO Twitter account about methods she would like to use to kill Jenner. Cleo’s best friend Kara, who happens to be gay, sees the tweets and visits Cleo to find out what is going on. Kara warns Cleo that using social media to threaten to kill a famous person is not a good idea. When Kara tries to get at the real reason behind Cleo’s anger, the two have a major battle bringing up grievances they’ve had against each other from early childhood to the present. Their fight leads to their breaking off their life-long friendship just when Cleo faces real danger from the backlash against her anti-Jenner tweets.

While both Cleo and Kara see a common enemy in White appropriation, their arguments reveal important rifts within their community of two. One is that Cleo assumes that Kara has had an easier time in life because Kara is a “lightie” (i.e., has a lighter skin tone). Cleo even assumes that Black people with a lighter skin tone are prone to “lightie-itis” and can’t fully understand Black people with a darker skin tone. Kara is justly outraged that Cleo should even think this. The discussion uncovers the often hidden issue of colourism within the Black community as did Jocelyn Bioh’s School Girls (2017), and both plays deal with Black women feeling that they are being measured against White standards of beauty.

Kara sees why Cleo might rant against Jenner, but she says that Cleo is no saint herself. Much to her chagrin, Cleo finds that internet trolls have dug up homophobic comments Cleo has tweeted and Kara would like an explanation.

When Lee-Jones wrote her play and when Obsidian planned to stage seven methods three years ago, neither could have known that in July 2023 the new owner of Twitter would change the platform’s name to X, replace the bird logo with the letter and change the name of “tweets” to “posts”. One of the perils in writing about the internet is that it changes so rapidly anything said about it one year would have to revised in the next. As of this month, X (Twitter) is not even on the list of the top ten most used social media platforms.

This is especially the situation with seven methods where Twitter is a constant reference point and where Twitterspeak has taken over the way that Lee-Jones’s characters communicate. Lee-Jones has Cleo and Kara lace their everyday conversation with innumerable acronyms derived from Twitter when it used to allow only 120 characters per tweet.

Some people do use Twitterspeak in face-to-face conversations like LOL (laughing out loud) or IMO (in my opinion). But it seems hard to believe that people would really say RN for “right now” when both expressions are two syllables. The programme has a glossary of 34 such abbreviation and acronyms, but it is useless when the performers speak so quickly and cram so much alphabet soup into a single sentence. My guess is that Lee-Jones does not expect a general audience to be able to catch everything Cleo and Kara are saying. Instead, the heavy dose of Twitterspeak is part of her satire of the social media platform and a critique of how it shapes the minds of its adherents.

Déjah Dixon-Green and Jasmine Case are outstanding as Cleo and Kara. They banter with each other so rapidly and speak the accumulation of acronyms so easily that they make Lee-Jones’s deliberately artificial language seem natural. Luckily, Lee-Jones also writes lyrical passages, some in rhyme, as monologues for Cleo and Kara that form a complete contrast with the alphabet-heavy language the women use when arguing. Dixon-Green and Case use these passages to reveal the sensitive side of their characters that their argumentative bravado tries to conceal. It’s impressive to see how the two have mastered such different modes of speech and expression.

Dixon-Green has a great sense for comedy. Her machine-gun delivery and her huffy attitude display such panache you have to admire Cleo even if you don’t agree with her. Case plays the raisonneuse figure in this satire, as she tries to persuade Cleo to look at herself and the dangers she may be inviting with her violent tweets. Case plays Kara as calm, patient and caring. Kara does love Cleo even if Cleo is too wrapped up in anger to see it. Kara also uses a number of different voices to play ancillary figures like reporters or the voices of tweets about Cleo.

Director Jay Northcott has asked Nick Blais to design a non-realistic set for the play. He has risen to the challenge by creating a bouncy round bed for Cleo that looks like rather like a rubber life raft floating amid the debris of broken computers. It’s an appropriate visual metaphor for a play that does not portray heavy screen time in a positive light. Emphasizing the symbolic nature of the design, Blais has placed twenty computer monitors of various shapes and styles on the wall above Cleo’s bed. Northcott uses these well to define words the audience might not know and to display the varied responses to Cleo’s actions, including people blocking her tweets.

Though Lee-Jones’s play begins in a brash and noisy way, it finishes in a reflective manner for both characters. By the end we see that Lee-Jones has led Cleo and the audience to move from a focus on hatred against the meaningless acts of a rich White woman to a focus on sympathy and gratitude for the life of an indigenous African woman, Sarah Baartman, the so-called “Hottentot Venus”, who was exhibited as a curiosity in Europe. Cleo and Kara in poetic marijuana-induced ecstasy reclaim Sarah, or Saartje as she was known, as a model of another, non-European ideal of beauty.

While watching seven methods, I felt that the clock was ticking for all the play’s internet-related material and language. Nevertheless, the insight Lee-Jones has into the lives of her two characters is so thorough and expressed so well that I would urge theatre-lovers to see seven methods before its general framework from 2019 becomes too antiquated to be understood. Meanwhile, Obsidian has made clear that Jasmine Lee-Jones is a playwright to watch and a powerful voice for the Black women of an often disrespected generation.

Christopher Hoile

Photos: Jasmine Case as Kara and Déjah Dixon-Green as Cleo. © 2024 Dahlia Katz.

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