Theater Review: THE GREAT KHAN (San Diego Repertory)

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by Milo Shapiro on March 14, 2022

in Theater-San Diego


Jayden (Jerome Beck) doesn’t have it easy. He and his mother Crystal (Brittney M. Caldwell) have recently transplanted themselves in a new town and school district. The move was to protect Jayden from boys whom he prevented from sexually assaulting Ant (Mikayla LaShae Bartholomew), a girl in his class. Starting over at sixteen is never easy, but video game junkie Jayden is now one of the very few black students in his school and is tired of teachers treating him special when he doesn’t feel special … just tokenized.

Brian Rivera (Temujin) and Jerome Beck (Jayden)

Yi-Chien Lee designs the stage as Jayden’s new bedroom, where all the scenes take place (except when he steps off the set signifying the times when he is in school) amid the unpacked boxes he’s avoiding, symbolic of all the unpacked feelings that go with the move. It is here that he wrestles with his place in his broken family, his school, his past choices, his role in society as a young black person, and his craving to be taken seriously as more than a kid while not being quite ready to grow up. Helping him come to terms with everything are his interactions with his overwhelmed mother, his trying-too-hard-to-be-cool-and-woke teacher Mr. Adams (Dylan John Seaton), a nerdy classmate he’s forced to do a project with (Molly Adea), the spirit of Genghis Khan (yes, that Genghis Khan, played with both intensity and humor by Brian Rivera) and Ant herself, who finds him despite the grave effort to disappear safely.

Molly Adea (Gao Ming)

What makes Michael Gene Sullivan‘s script so crisp, and Mr. Beck’s portrayal so endearing, is that Jayden is painfully trapped between wanting to do right and feeling as though the world has no place for him. His awareness of his blackness permeates so much of who he is and what he chooses. Through his influences, perhaps Khan’s most of all, Jayden finds pieces of what he needs to remain true to himself in a world that both over- and under-supports him. Director Jess McLeod‘s pacing walks the line beautifully by including both gentle moments and big energy jolts, including the delightful Ms. Adea in a second role as Narrator. She helps us to understand the life path of young Temujin, now remembered as the Great Khan, but primarily forgotten for who he was as a person; this way, we’re spared having the characters explaining everything.

Brian Rivera (Temujin), Molly Adea (Gao Ming) and Jerome Beck (Jayden)

The house music fits right for Jayden’s world, but the rap music was so loud before the show and at intermission, that we were screaming through our masks to be heard. That detail aside, The Great Khan is a poignant yet pleasing look into an age bracket and race culture that isn’t frequently represented — no doubt giving many in the mostly white audience something to think about without feeling put-upon.  Khangrats to San Diego Rep.

Brian Rivera (Temujin) and Jerome Beck (Jayden)

photos by Rich Soublet

Brian Rivera (Temujin) and Jerome Beck (Jayden)

The Great Khan
San Diego Repertory Theatre
Lyceum Stage, 79 Horton Plaza
Wed at 7; Thurs & Fri at 8; Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 2
ends on March 27, 2022
for tickets, call 619.544.1000 or visit SD Rep

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