KEEPING UP WITH THE PROZOROVS
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July 08, 2018
What I liked
The overall impression covers a lot of this. I’ll add a simple comment that the dialogue was sharp and funny.
What I didn't like
Dealing with race on stage is always complicated. The play is definitively not anti-Black. Seeing Black actors performing in Black roles came as a relief, that is after the shoe-horning of Black folks into definitively White roles (if there’s ever been a better example of double consciousness than Hamilton… let me know!).
The writer and actors might have been anxious about staging the racism I for one assume is fundamental to the Kardashians. Going back Robert’s role in the O.J. affair, the family has built itself an image based on this foundation of fetishizing and working the Black male body. For the play to echo that relationship with a Black woman trying to break into the music industry is simultaneously an interesting adaptation and a distraction from actual gender dynamics. Thus I was left a little ambivalent.
That said, I think the play played the Kardashians a little safe. I can imagine Kim and the others using even more provocative terminology with reference to these men they almost appear to collect. For future revisions, I’d also enjoy seeing the production cast actors with bombshell bodies, aligning even more closely with pulchritude in the hip hop culture. The power White women like Kim wield over men has to do with their ambiguous situatedness, by color undeniably White but by shape rather Black.
My overall impression
This show proved timely for me, seeing as I just volunteered as historical consultant for a staging of Three Sisters, the Chekhov play (as translated into English), in North Hollywood last summer. With all due respect to Archway’s actors and director who stayed true to the original, its themes, and its aesthetic, I left the adaptation with more food for thought.
The coincidence of this same configuration, 3 sisters:1 brother, begs for parody. Why not relentlessly mock the Kardashians as a throwback to the Victorians? At that time, families like the Brontës (also 3:1) were common enough, but such broods will all but disappear with the total fertility rate not just in the U.S. but around the globe continuing to plummet.
The most pleasant discovery for me was to find the Kardashians fitting so well into this neo-Victorian setting. That’s right, Victorian Kardashians. How you ask!? The answer is that “we Victorians” (as Foucault would have said) are just as obsessed with sex and class as the old Victorians were. And that’s what resonates from Keeping Up with the Prozorovs: sociability/social class.
American audiences have consistently relied on British theater to teach them about class, since the Astor Place Riot, because class-consciousness is confused in this place where families are always rising and falling. Thus the rules for what marks a person as more or less classy are always changing. I grew up assuming the path from staging a sex tape would never put its lead on a path to meeting the President. And now we have a President who likely has a sex tape floating around out there!
The Prozorovs/Kardashians remind us that success in social class terms is a utopian project. You can get to Moscow, but reaching that point never saves anyone from having to keep performing to stay on top of their new perch. I finished the play feeling toward Kim even some sympathy, for she must be wracked with anxiety over every bid she puts up on social media and every word from her increasingly risk-seeking husband.
I’ll go so far as to conclude from this fictionalization that the celebrity is indeed a special kind of worker, certainly a labor aristocrat to their “teams” and their fans, but a prized horse to the people who write them checks and otherwise retain the privilege of anonymity.
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