In her playwright’s note for “Tilikum,” Kristiana Rae Colón writes, “White people love whales. Even if they Black.”
She got my number. Can’t deny it. I love whales.
Colón sets up her circumstances and inspiration in the program (which I won’t spoil anymore, it’s simply too good). We can all agree that, here, in an artistic space, Tilikum is not just the real-life captive orca who killed several trainers after torturous living conditions ruined his health, but also a black man who was displaced, taken from a home and turned into the economic foundation of a wealthy park owner and the mortar of his trainer’s identity.
The metaphor isn’t something we need to think about or discuss. From the opening announcement that reminds us that we view this performance on indigenous people’s land to Colón’s note discussing her impetus for writing the play, the clarity of this metaphor never once comes into question. And with this sharp, clear-line analogy, Lili-Anne Brown’s direction doesn’t explore any new territory but simply states facts and finds the agonizing nuances of the deep rooted metaphor. “Tilikum” must be seen by white folks and is recommended viewing for anybody else.
I could talk about how great “Tilikum” is all day. I could write about how Greg Geffrard is charming, tragic, funny, a generous and physically dynamic Tilikum whose pain and hope are boundless in an exhausting role that asks for much from him and to which he responds by giving more. I could write about how Sigrid Sutter, as his trainer, deftly illustrates the nefarious layers of well-intentioned white people. Or I could talk about the pitch-perfect sound design and brilliant performances by multi-instrumentalists, Coco Elysses, Melissa F. DuPrey and Joyce Liza Rada Lindsey whose percussion lends so much identity to this show that I almost wish the projections weren’t there so these three could take up more space. Or I could mention how quotably beautiful Colón’s writing is, every other line dropping poetic wisdom and questions about story, identity, myth and performance. Who are we if we don’t believe the stories we tell?
I could talk about those things. But it feels like maybe, you should just check out “Tilikum.” (Jay Van Ort)
Sideshow Theater at Victory Gardens, 2433 North Lincoln, (773)871-3000, victorygardens.org, $15-$30. Through July 29.