Young Jean Lee: Pullman, WA

Image credit: Young Jean LeeImage credit: Young Jean Lee

Pullman, WA is an intense play. Three performers – jeans and T-shirt, jeans and shirt, skirt and cardi – come into the room and pelt us with a chaotic script of thoughts. All lights are up and they look us hard in the eye; smiling, snarling and spitting. It’s intense but I’m not sure it’s as intense as they would like it to be, or indeed I would like it to be.

The first man we see tells us that life is hard but we can make it better, or rather, he can tell us how to. ”I know how to live”, he says over and over, and then, ”Okay, now I’m repeating myself”. He tells us we are abusing ourselves and that the problem with whipping ourselves into shape, as we always feel we should, is the whipping bit. It’s not nice to whip. He’s got a point. He’s quite sane in a sort of charismatic way. Then he goes a bit crazy hitting his hands together and we get the impression that we are supposed to think that really he is quite a troubled individual.

The other two are a bit similar. The three of them switch and transform in front of us, joining and splitting forces to tell us who we are and who we should be. Carrying us along with their desperation to find comfort and reassurance in their imagination, each other and God. Although it seems that each other and God are figments of their imagination anyway.

The woman, Becky Yamamoto, is wonderful. She tells us that we are fucked up losers and that the world of unicorns, mermaids and bouncing jack-rabbits is the right one. Her thoughts seem deep rooted and her switching between nice and horrid is unnervingly calm. Is she playing a game? Is she really seeing what she tells us she is? Is she fucked up herself? Or is she pretending to be? This enigma is interesting and she is in control of it. The men are less in control. They do normal and do crazy (or just do crazy), but it’s painted onto them.

The script moves so fast that it’s hard for everything not to stay superficial. The ridiculousness and exaggeration within the text create rich layers of emotion and meaning which too often seem ignored. Maybe the suggestion of these things is enough but it doesn’t feel like it. It crosses my mind that if certain moments were just left to dwell or to simmer for longer, then amazing and unpredictable scenes might emerge. Be they singing together or hitting themselves or dreaming aloud. What if they just kept going? There are times when this does happen. When there is only one actor with us in the room and they have nothing to stop them rolling on and on aside from their own growing disorientation… These moments are keepers. More of that madness, please.


‘Pullman, WA’ by Young Jean Lee’s Theatre Company, SACRED 2010: US Radical, 26-27 October 2010, Chelsea Theatre, London