“Ready Steady Yeti” to Talk About Racism

“Ready Steady Yeti Go” by David Jacobi is a contemporary piece of theatre that demands attention in today’s political climate. The play centers around a hate crime committed in a small, white, presumably middle-American town, and mainly focuses on how the children in this town were affected by this incident. Themes of race, identity, growing up and political correctness are powerfully displayed throughout the plot, action, and setting. 

“Ready Steady Yeti Go” opens with the discovery of a racial epithet spray-painted on the house of Carly Uhlenbeek (Courtney Williams), the only black girl in town. The town gathers together to haphazardly attempt to address the situation with a “Kill Racism Forever” rally. A group of middle school students come together to investigate the incident and we watch them navigate themselves around this incident. while trying to live their lives as well.

I appreciated the visible dedication of this diverse cast, as they worked together fluidly and created a deep sense of community, which was riddled into the atmosphere. This helped to draft the intense tension between all the characters as the case heated up. I pay a lot of attention to shows where the actors noticeably build off of one another and maintain the energies being thrown out onto stage. 

Gandry (Matthew Moment) and Goon (Michael Coyle) sold the good brother/bad brother aesthetic to me from the opening of the play. Moment had a difficult job to tackle, as his character goes through a serious mental health crisis during the play, which he handled with care and consideration. This scene was riveting and intricate, and one of the most moving parts of the play. Both Coyle and Moment’s energy never let up, and this added great depth to the play. They worked with the tension that undercut a lot of their associations with one another to create a complicated relationship, and their efforts to stand by one another was heartwarming. Although, Goon makes the difficult decision to support his brother through the serious vandalism and hurts Carly, his romantic interest, by not supporting her though the hate crime she faces at his own brother’s hand. 

Goon and Carly’s budding romance took the audience back to our first middle school crushes, with their adorable, awkward kiss scene. We saw how these characters had to navigate being friends, romance and the eyes of others during a trying time. I enjoyed the romantic parts of the play as a nice reprise from the hard-hitting content, as it added a pleasant youthfulness to the play. 

The emphasis on music as a uniting and dividing force is an important part of the play, and my personal favorite thing to pay attention to while watching. Carly plays music to get close to Goon, which backfires slightly as he feels humiliated when he can’t keep up with her, but ultimately brings them closer together as he finds himself able to admire her artistry. However, as Carly is supposed to play her xylophone before the entire school, we see how this forced performance deteriorates her pride in her music. Music plays a huge role culturally, and I really enjoyed seeing how it could be both beneficial and harmful to this community. This was true of Carly, who took pride in her art yet was forced to question how it helped her in this difficult situation.

Jacobi, hailing from Ronkonkoma, New York, wrote the play in 2015. He was a semifinalist for the American Playwriting Association’s Relentless Award. His focus for the play was to show how society uses the claim that “people are all the same on the inside, even though we look different on the outside” to avoid racism and stereotypes. However, he explores how that notion is faulty. He crafts a piece that gives a nuanced look at how we handle race issues in America in our own towns, and the ways in which they are problematic. 

The script is not without its issues, though. Certain aspects of the show remain unclear, due to a lack of clarity in dialogue and exposition. The play was an evolving piece before, during and even after it was performed by this cast, and Jacobi himself considers it unfinished. Working under these confines, the cast and crew did an excellent job of trying to fill the gaps. 

One point of contention I had with the show is that it’s a play within a play. This was never made clear to me upon the first performance I saw. However, after watching it a second time, there were small pieces of the performance that provided more insight to this. Certain scenes, for example, where Miranda Cooper plays Gandry and Goon’s mom, the lighting changes when she breaks character. Once this moment happens, I realized that the children in this town are putting on a performance to process the crime that occured in their town. When Goon breaks character in this scene, Gandry calls out to him and says “That’s not what you did!” making it more clear to me that these children are attempting to understand and express how they’ve been affected by this experience. Gandry and Goon are trying to wrap their minds around their indifference and lack of action, and the tension created here brings the performance to a new place.

On that note, this show must be watched with full engagement in order to grasp all its moving parts. The “play within a play” aspect of the show metaphorically demonstrates the repetition of a lack of accountability and resolution embedded in the show and in the town. While Goon wants to pretend he acted more nobly, he cannot because he simply didn’t do so. This lack of foresight and regret also demonstrates how the characters are pushing themselves to do better, hopefully, for the future.

Another important piece of the show is the clever dramatic choice to change scenes. The actors use the phrase “Ready Steady Yeti Go” to playfully transition between scenes and even to get out of uncomfortable scenes. It established a continuity and clarified that this is the formation chosen by the children of a middle-school performance. The characters use this unique tactic to get themselves out of uncomfortable situations, or whenever a conversation gets too tough to have, which is also very indicative of how we often avoid discomfort when it comes to race relations ourselves. 

Various aspects of this show cause the audience to reflect hard about their own behaviors and thoughts. A great way they do this is through the ensemble. The townspeople of the show create the perfect atmosphere for how implicit bias lies beneath their thoughts. In an almost greek-chorus style, the ensemble gives the show a sense of community while pushing the plot along. They open our eyes to the things the children aren’t necessarily picking up on, which also causes the audience to put their biases in check and notice how unnoticed they go to children and planted in their thoughts. Ms. Apples, the parents, and other characters are perfect examples of why the children in the play act and speak the way they do about race. No one seems to understand how much they are damaging Carly throughout the play, and they continue to remind her how much they “care” and “want to help,” but only drag her further down. 

Ms. Apples, played by Miranda Cooper, showed how delicately yet poignantly microaggressions and false empathy affect children, as she drives Carly to burst at the “Kill Racism Forever” rally held to “help” her cope through the vandalism of her house and push the town to get past their racist tendencies. 

In our society, we don’t always recognize how children can be affected by consistent microaggressions and behaviors that build up overtime, and the results are often overlooked. In this play, we directly see how the children in this town have been influenced by their community. Gandry’s hate crime is the result of hushed racism, implicit bias and fear buried within the adults he’s around. He has trouble exploring himself as he grows up because of the pressures surrounding him, from his brother, his school and his family. The most important aspect of this play for me was watching how the characters are affected by growing up here, and it opens eyes to how we need to encourage the education of individuals to avoid these things from happening. 

However, the lack of resolution at the end of the show excellently shows how these children have a lot more living to do. The end of the show leaves the audience with a lot to ponder, which honestly irritated me, as it needed to. I wanted justice and a neat bow tied around the ordeal, which I didn’t get, because that’s not how life works. Incidents like this permeate all of society; they are never a one time occurence and they don’t get resolved nicely or cleanly. As Carly puts it at the end of those, “what if it happens again? What if they get away with it, again?” This realization begins to wrap up the show, and makes it painfully clear that these errors will not be corrected quickly or simply. People like Gandry, and all the members of these community need to be held accountable for their lack of action and lack of support and care. 

The show is geared towards white people and people who don’t know how they are racist. White guilt is also a powerful theme that gets picked apart, and we see how nuanced this is by how the children respond to it. Ignorance is at the heart of this play and is made visible in a creative way that I haven’t seen done before. Children are able to show us how wrong we might be, and the technique of the actors to maintain this innocence in a college production is admirable. 

Go see “Ready Steady Yeti Go” Oct. 7-11 in Parker Theatre! It’s worth a watch or two.