Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Perception v. Reality: "Neighbors" by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins

I like to think that ALL of my friends are amazingly talented, but some of my friends are granted special distinction by totally unbiased sources.
Such is the case with my brilliant buddy, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.
In addition to winning a Fulbright Grant, a Princess Grace Foundation award and many other accolades, Branden can now add "professional/successful playwright" to his resume.

Last Friday I had the honor of seeing a production at The Public Theater (the powers behind Shakespeare in the Park, Hair, etc.) of a play Branden workshopped about a year-and-a-half ago, which I also attended.

Branden's show is called "Neighbors" or "N(E)IG(H)G(BO)ERS," and if you remove the parentheses you discover the play's central issues: race, racism, identity and environment. The New York Times wrote a feature article about the show which summarizes it better than I can: READ HERE.

I think what moved me so much about the show is the central idea that self-misperception and misperception BY others is hopelessly destructive. In a world that's often black and white, Branden's play blurs everything to gray.
And that struck a nerve with me.
  • I'm Chinese, but I'm also American.
  • I'm a Midwesterner by upbringing, but I never really fit in there.
  • By every right I earned a spot at Princeton, but often felt a sense of alienation at being only one of 6 people in my class from Kansas (and the only one from my city).
  • I feel in profound sense of belonging here in New York, but I've lived here fewer than 3 years.
How do people see me? And how does that matter?

These are questions I will continue to ask with increased urgency after seeing Branden's ingenious, inspiring and insightful play.

Hugging the playwright after the performance.

The play runs through March 14 but is virtually sold out for its entire run.
I still encourage you to try to get any tickets that might crop up.
Information is available on The Public Theater's website HERE.

This is only the beginning of a prolific and important career.
Bravo, BJJ!


LPC said...

Congratulations to Branden. And here's the thing, some of us, no matter where we come from or where we wind up, always feel a little like Martians. It's a sense of self, a perception. I like to think it comes in part from intelligence, but there's every likelihood I'm justifying...

MCW said...

I am so impressed with your friend. I also find it interesting that the Times left out the "real" title of his play.