Wasatch Theatre Company’s production of Ready Steady Yeti Go snaps with spirited lesson about honest discussions of racism

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In David Jacobi’s Ready Steady Yeti Go, when a hate crime targets the home of Carly, the only black student in her suburban school, the adults, despite their best intentions, still perpetuate worrisome sentiments even if they do not directly express racial animosity. How young people learn about racism extends well beyond the halls of their schools. Parents may not even realize the powerful subtlety of their routine behaviors in showing their children how pervasive racism actually is in their neighborhoods.

The Wasatch Theatre Company (WTC), the resident theatrical organization at The Gateway in downtown Salt Lake City, is presenting Jacobi’s play in a production, directed by Tristan B. Johnson, which snaps spiritedly with worthwhile performances by its cast of five young actors.

Ready Steady Yeti go, by David Jacobi, directed by Tristan B. Johnson. Wasatch Theatre Company.

The main characters are cast as middle school students. The most interesting interactions and performances involve Carly (Trinidad Allen) and Goon (Michael Davies), who develop a young romance after the incident. Goon and his twin brother Gandry (Sterling Shane Allen) are developed pretty much the same as the classic Goofus and Gallant comic series that ran forever in the Highlights for Children magazine, the mainstay publication of elementary schools and waiting rooms in physicians’ offices for many years. Everyone sees Goon and Gandry in the same stark binary dynamic as the ‘bad’ Goofus and the ‘good’ Gallant. The show’s vibe evokes the period when Highlights for Children was part of every kid’s elementary school ritual.

However, Carly sees Goon differently and it becomes apparent that who is ‘good’ and who is ‘bad’ belies the disturbing realities that emerge in Jacobi’s story. Rounding out the ensemble are Wikipedia Jones, a wanna-be-detective and the police chief’s son (T. J. Hunter) and his equally irritating sidekick Katie (Savannah Moffat).

Ready Steady Yeti go, by David Jacobi, directed by Tristan B. Johnson. Wasatch Theatre Company.

The actors periodically assume adult characters, none of whom rise to dealing effectively with a horrible incident in their community. There are breathless preparations for a school rally to “destroy racism forever,” a tragicomedic gesture of misdirected awkwardness in epic proportions. Carly especially is exasperated at the way her parents are being seen and portrayed.

There are significant strengths and distracting weaknesses in Jacobi’s play, which was workshopped several years as part of the Salt Lake Acting Company’s Playwrights Lab. Jacobi successfully captures the credible voices of 12- and 13-year-old children. However, the play’s flow is more jagged and rocky than it could be, with the restless procession of short scenes punctuated by the cry of “Ready Steady Yeti Go.” The play was a semi-finalist for the American Playwriting Foundation’s 2016 Relentless Award.

The actors do admirable justice to the major epiphanies in the script and, in numerous instances, they consciously try to supersede the caricatures representing the adults in the story, an element that Jacobi emphasizes more than necessary in the dialogue he was written. A few audience members laughed out loud frequently, sometimes at moments when more subtle reactions would have emboldened the actors’ efforts to shape their characters with more depth. More often, an audience member’s laugh indicates a defense mechanism activated by their own discomfort in discussing the realities of racism.

Ready Steady Yeti go, by David Jacobi, directed by Tristan B. Johnson. Wasatch Theatre Company.

The budding relationship between Carly and Goon challenges parents and teachers to go beyond superficial rhetoric in talking about racism. It is more useful for adults to ponder more critically the manner in which they carry out their routine behaviors, responses and reactions and those actions might reproduce precisely the reprehensible expressions of racism that shocked Carly and her family and left the community scrambling to respond in the best way possible.

Performances continue at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 28 and Feb. 29 at The Box, the WTC theater at 142 South 400 West on the eastern edge of The Gateway. WTC’s next show, Girls and Boys, opens March 6.

For more information, see the Wasatch Theatre Company website.

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Les Roka
I am a native of Toledo, Ohio, having received my Ph.D. in journalism and mass communication from Ohio University's Scripps School of Journalism in 2002. In addition to teaching at Utah State University and the University of Utah, I have worked extensively in public relations for a variety of organizations including a major metropolitan university, college of osteopathic medicine, and community college. When it comes to intellectual curiosity, I venture into as many areas as possible, whether it’s about music criticism, the history of journalism, the practice of public relations in a Web 2.0 world and the soon-to-arrive Web 3.0 landscape, or how public debates are formed about many issues especially in the political arena. As a Salt Lake City resident, I currently write and edit a blog called The Selective Echo that provides an entertaining, informative, and provocative look at Salt Lake City and its cosmopolitan best. I also have been the U.S. editorial advisor for an online publication Art Design Publicity based in The Netherlands. And, I use social media tools such as Twitter for blogging, networking with journalists and experts, and staying current on the latest trends in culture and news. I also have been a regular monthly contributor to a Utah business magazine, and I have recently conducted a variety of editing projects involving authors and researchers throughout the country and the world, including Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Lebanon, Cyprus, the United Kingdom, France, and Japan. I’m also a classically trained musician who spent more than 15 years in a string quartet, being involved in more than 400 performances.

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