Messy Utopia: Mixed Blood at Mixed Blood

Jaime Kleiman struggles with "Messy Utopia," a combination of didacticism and antic hijinks. It may not be everyone's idea of good theater but it is successful, at least in part, in accomplishing its goals.

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Messy Utopia, the new show that opened at Mixed Blood Theatre last Friday, is indeed a mess, filled with pedantry and playlettes that seem more like live-action PSAs than professionally written scenes. That being said, this show “for, by, about, and featuring people of mixed race” does accomplish its goal: by the end of the 90-minute show one can’t but help think about the meaning and value of creating racial categories, and what the U.S. Census might report a few decades from now. In reality, everyone is of mixed race but few Caucasians are repeatedly asked, “What are you?”

All of the characters in Messy Utopia are bombarded with this gauche question. A good point, but it’s run into the ground. Speaking as a white Jewish girl who “doesn’t look Jewish,” maybe that’s easier for me to say than the people the play is intended for, but I doubt it. Theatre, no matter how well intentioned, needs something more than a didactic sticking point.

The talented but uneven eight-member cast portrays a multitude of characters, ranging from a heckled cabaret singer who impersonates Prince, Aretha Franklin, and Shakira (Georgia A. Keller); and a threesome of aspiring actresses stuck playing Pocahontas at kiddie parties. There’s also an enjoyable but overlong Johnny Cash / Carter family-esque song called The Ballad of Accountant Joe, sung with good humor by Joe Nathan Thomas. Accountant Joe (Joe Hernádez-Kolski) is about 1/8 of every nationality you can (or can’t) imagine. His identity crisis, loneliness, and subsequent killing spree is reminiscent of the all-too-recent massacre at Virginia Tech by a Korean-born student who blamed his murderous actions on “rich kids,” “debauchery,” and “deceitful charlatans.” The inclusion of this vignette is bad timing and unfortunately timely. A more serious approach would have turned the multi-layered Ballad into a stronger piece of theatre.

Another standout is the diminutive Jennifer Chang, whose acting chops lend a sense of playfulness and depth to the mostly shallow material. Stephanie Díaz is awkward in her Muslim-turned-Catholic mommy role, as well as in her yoga-practicing, online dating, hyphenate who sort of hooks up with an uptight Indian-born white British guy. Director/actor Aditi Kapil shines in her acting roles and does the best she can shaping the material, written by herself, Seema Sueko, Janet Allard, Velina Hasu Houston, and Naomi Izuka.

Kate Sutton-Johnson’s set beautifully illustrates the invisible divide between the WASPs and the future skin colors of America. Geometric shapes and walkways surround the audience (think inverted theatre-in-the-round), and a runway divides the audience into two groups. Blinking red and green arrows direct our attention as actors move in and out of their scenes. The effect is interactive and thought-provoking: after all the talk about race and ethnicity, one can’t help but look around the room at other audience members and wonder, if only for a split second, where they, too, might have come from.

Messy Utopia runs through May 13 at the Alan Page Auditorium at Mixed Blood’s firehouse theatre, 1501 S. Fourth St. Tickets: 612-338-6131 or