The Rolling World Premiere of The Great Khan is a Perfect Example of Wonderful Storytelling

Using Elements Like History, Truth, Assumption and Repression. Not to Mention Great Ensemble Work. This Definitely Should Not be Missed.  

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardasht

Brian Rivera (Temujin) and Jerome Beck (Jayden) in San Diego Repertory Theatre’s The Great Khan by Michael Gene Sullivan, directed by Jess McLeod. Photo by Rich Soublet. 

Like I have mentioned in other blogviews, theatre as well as a form of entertainment is also (or should be) a platform for memory, history, education, and making people uncomfortable. These things bring up questions, questions lead to conversations followed by learning and hopefully, growth. 

San Diego Repertory Theatre's new production of The Great Khan does just that. This Rolling World Premiere that is part of the National New Play Network (NNPN) is where imagination and creativity come together resulting in a wonderful piece about a group of high school students in various circumstances. Jayden (Jerome Beck) has relocated to a new city and new school as a safety measure after saving Ant (Mikayla Bartholomew) from being assaulted. Angry and confused by the unfairness of it all, Jayden has not unpacked and is not doing very well in school. Mr. Adams (Dylan Seaton) his history teacher, gives the class an assignment that involves developing a profile based on a list he created with famous historic characters. Because Jayden has not been to class, he gets stuck with the unpicked Genghis Khan. When he reads the list, Jayden tells Mr. Adams he will do the assignment only if he can name twenty Black history heroes without googling them, nor can they be athletes or performers. Mr. Adams is confident in the beginning yet, he can only name four people so the task is on. The assignment is in pairs and Jayden gets paired with Gao-Ming (Molly Adea) a talkative, full of spark young woman who is in love with make-up as an expression and art-form. On top of everything that happened and is happening, Jayden gets nightly visits from Ant who wants to make it clear she is no victim, jumping through a window worry free because Jayden's mom Crystal (Brittney Caldwell) works nights. As he researches for the assignment along with Gao-Ming, Jayden as a Black teenager discovers commonalities with Genhis Khan and writes a rap for his presentation. When Crystal catches a glimpse of the performance dressed with curse words, she questions her son to which he points out understanding the Mongol leader because he was a slave when he was a child and steered a survival of the fittest route not tolerating any form of abuse and that he has to do the same. Jayden also points out very truthfully during the show that history is written by the winners and the truth will not be told about who they see as losers. Then one night, Temujin or well Genhis Khan (Brian Rivera) himself appears in Jayden's room. This play is an absolute gem with smoke, sound and light effects but really, truth, after truth, after truth. As they get aquanted, the Great Khan shares his story and comes across a couple of questions that Jayden tries to clarify like how Indians are now Native Americans, Indians are from India, he is African-American and Mongolian BBQ. Intermittently we see Gao-Ming presenting facts about Temujin the person not the "monster" as her mother calls him. 

Molly Adea (Gao Ming) in San Diego Repertory Theatre’s The Great Khan by Michael Gene Sullivan, directed by Jess McLeod. Photo by Rich Soublet.

It does get confusing to see a play about a person who is responsible for dissapearing entire populations. Immediately I thought of Hitler and right then, Gao-Ming pointed it out in the plot. This is not just a story meant to raise eyebrows, this is a story meant to go deep in and give room to think. Complemented wonderfully by Rebecca Jeffords lighting design along with Tosin Olufolabi's sound design and Blake McCarty and Caroline Yao's projections. Brian Rivera as Temujin is fantastic. His portrayal involves lines in Mongolian and even though Siri translates at times through Jayden's Ipad, -which was hilarious-, other lines are intuitive and absolutely beautiful. Playwright Michael Gene Sullivan lays out facts and struggles of  Black youth in this country in a powerful, intelligent way. He also points out stereotypes, gaslighting, ignorance and tragedy including the 1985 Philadelphia bombing. Towards the end of the piece, Mr. Adams brings his list of historic figures incomplete and Jayden patiently and knowingly fills in the missing slots.

Sometimes rolling premieres are still figuring it out onstage and with its audiences. Not the case here. The Great Khan is example of great storytelling using elements like history, truth, assumption and repression not to mention great ensemble work. This definitely should not be missed. The more people show up, the more these types of very necessary stories will keep going on stage.

The Great Khan is currently playing until Match 27. For ticket prices and performance times click here

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