Defacing Michael Jackson (Review)

Defacing Michael Jackson is the latest World Premier play brought to us by the folks behind Miami New Drama, arguably thee best theater in the region.  The coming-of-age dramedy, written by the incomparable Aurin Squire, and directed by New York based Shaun Patrick Tubbs, quite frankly, hits, and it hits hard.

It’s 1984 in Opa Locka, Miami. A group of four African American teens form a fan club dedicated to Michael Jackson. Led by its female president Frenchy (Sydney Presendieu), Treasurer Obie or Obadiah (Xavier Edward King), and rounded out by the twins Red / Yellow (Dylan Rogers), the trouble begins when a stranger comes to town, Wes aka Cracker Jack (Joshua Hernandez), a tall, lanky Anglo super fan of the gloved one.

“Can you take yourself back?” the play begins with a monologue by Obie and immediately we travel backwards down the memory line to 1984.

Without spoiling the play, Defacing Michael Jackson is a powerful and poignant exploration of sexuality, race relations, hero worship and gentrification. Squire’s writing is crisp, brisk, rhythmic and poetic – creating a captivating and layered landscape, a precise autopsy of the above-mentioned societal issues.

Defacing Michael Jackson is also raw AF

There are a few scenes where the dialogue gets so toxic and racy, it’s jarring, and not necessarily for everybody, but remember this is 1984 and that’s the way it was.

There is also a really dark twist about half-way through the play at the end of Act I concerning Wes, and affecting Obie, and then another dark transition into Act II around race. For a society so afraid of self-diagnosis, Defacing Michael Jackson dives right into the deep end of existence and a fan of the theater is better for it.

The acting, all around, is also stellar.

Sydney Presendieu shines and commands our attention in every scene. She’s awesome.

Xavier King is a great narrator, utilizing interesting 4th wall breaks to create intimacy and nuance, and the actor is pitch perfect in his delivery.

Playing three characters, the twins and a City Commissioner, Dylan Rogers showcases the deepest range and is wildly entertaining as both Red and Yellow.

But the play is not perfect. To be honest, the Wes character does not feel three-dimensional and completely alive, and Wes’s father is perhaps the worst off-screen foil imaginable. He’s a true diaboli es machina (devil in the machine).

At times, DMJ is too sentimental and awkward.

But here’s the thing.

Being a teenager is unbelievably awkward and every time you might feel awkward watching this play, just remember you’re watching awkward teenagers.

If you feel awkward, the play is doing its job.

And once again, when it comes to Miami New Drama, it’s a job well done.

Tickets and Info

Defacing Michael Jackson is playing at the Colony Theater on Miami Beach until April 2nd.

For more info and tickets, click here.

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J.J. Colagrande

Has written about Miami culture for almost twenty years, first with The Miami Herald, then Miami New Times and Huffington Post. He's the publisher of The Jitney and a full-time professor.