Meta? Maybe. Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner (Public Theater to Jan 22) is the kind of title guaranteed for the internet to begin foaming over, should the invisible world of anger aggregators alight upon it and do their thing. The subject of Jasmine Lee-Jones’ brilliant play, directed by Milli Bhatia, is about the same—the deliberate act of propagating anger on the internet to nourish one’s own notoriety and sense of importance, and the human and other results of doing so.
The play, which comes laden with awards from London (including the Evening Standard and Critics’ Circle Most Promising Playwright Awards, and the Alfred Fagon Award)—is also about racism, friendship, queerness, and Black beauty. Overarching it all—on stage in front of us—is a kind of monstrous, Babadookian, though white, canopy of rope with dangling strands; the internet symbolically made into a bridal veil meets hell’s mouth. Those hanging fronds take on an even more piercing meaning when the text refers to lynching at one point.
Cleo (Leanne Henlon) is the one who is tweeting out the death threats for likes, but, as she makes clear to her concerned friend Kara (Tia Bannon) what she was really trying to do was a cultural critique, infuriated by the news, which Forbes reported in 2019 that Jenner is the world’s youngest “self-made” billionaire (and which was later shown not to be correct). And so the written-in-anger tweet thread begins, and while the play interrogates very big themes and very big pain, around Black identity and the co-option of Black identity, it’s also very funny and moving.
The relationship between the two women—and how Kara vocalizes her own queerness and her anger at Cleo’s past homophobia, which she also expressed online—is particularly strong. You root for them both singly and together. The play doesn’t tie anything up with a tidy bow; the racism that Cleo rightly identifies as so permeating the culture is given a historical anchor. At the end, it is the audience that is the focus, and the subject of the most critical of gazes.
Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner is excellently written and acted. The night this critic went, all manner of technical snafus capsized the production for about 50 minutes of the performance, and 15 minutes while things were sorted out. It says something about how good Henlon and Bannon are it did not matter one bit (during the 50 minutes of performance with microphones and lights out of synch, the actors just carried on), or to how well Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner cohered as a thrilling and concise piece of theater.