At one point during Jasmine Lee-Jones' play seven methods of killing kylie jenner, a balled-up wig rolls across the stage as the two main characters face off à la an old, Western film shoot-out. The script refers to it as a "tumbleweave" and includes an image of an internet meme. Other memes are dotted throughout the script—Kermit drinking tea, Michael Jackson eating popcorn, Maxine Waters reclaiming her time—all intended as dialogue.
It's not just the inclusion of memes that set the script apart. One line of dialogue is a series of 16 "face with tears of joy" emojis. There are lines of internet abbreviations (BMT, IDK, ACC, SJW, TL, IRL). And there are lines written in a London urban slang dialect (bredrin, dem tings, shubz). The dialogue drips down the center of the page, sometimes even spliced with internal rhymes.
Lee-Jones has created an entirely new way of writing dialogue that is uniquely her. She's basically a Gen Z Shakespeare. "It honestly came out of not really knowing what I was doing," she says.
Seven methods of killing kylie jenner premiered at London's Royal Court Theatre in 2019. Following a pandemic postponement, it is now being presented, in association with Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, at The Public Theater's Under the Radar Festival. The short, two-week festival run is directed by Milli Bhatia and stars Leanne Henlon as Cleo and Tia Bannon as Kara, both reprising their Royal Court performances.
Though the form, style, and words Lee-Jones uses in her writing are fascinating, seven methods delivers punch after punch on a range of topics. She deftly combines the memes, the slang, the internet-speak, and even a few of her own invented words (see, Shakespeare). It's all to craft a searing commentary on cultural appropriation, social media outrage, Black bodies, queerness, and colorism—as seen through the sharp lens of best friends Cleo and Kara. The pair's relationship is tested as the Twitterverse drags up old tweets, leading to a re-examination of old wounds.
Part of the inspiration for the play came from recent trip Lee-Jones took to Barbados, where she says the "legacy of slavery and colonialism is so apparent." She was served Yorkshire puddings instead of Caribbean foods, and white women on the beach were getting braids like Bo Derek in the 1979 film 10. "I don't think people realize how dangerous it is that they're donning Blackness as a costume," Lee-Jones remarks. "Because then it means that it's not a real identity."
She continues, passionate: "I think it's very, very, very uncomfortable for white women to face the damage it does—the sense of ownership it lends people to my body, because it's seen as an identity that people can travel into and out of. Someone can travel to Barbados and think they've experienced Blackness. But they're still comfortable because they're being served roast beef at dinner. Then they get to take the braids out and not experience the complexities of living as a Black person on a day-to-day basis."
Seven methods begins with a tweet from Cleo criticizing Kylie Jenner's "self-made" billionaire status and her lip injections, where her large lips are considered beautiful on the young, white celebrity—but the same features have historically been deemed ugly on Black women. "I’m just saying I read about this shit constantly, throughout history, now: Wypipo stealing Black women’s sauce and reselling it to the whole world like the shit’s new," tweets Cleo.
After Cleo's first tweet gains traction and she continues tweeting her "methods of killing Kylie Jenner" (metaphorically as a cultural icon), the internet begins to turn on her—revealing its dark and racist underbelly. Her handle @incognegro is distorted to slur, and anonymous trolls begin to search for her true identity and expose her. It gets dangerous. Two old tweets from Cleo resurface, revealing a crack in her friendship with Kara.
Seven methods is Lee-Jones' first play, and she's since written one other (curious, which premiered at London's Soho Theatre in September 2021). But she says she doesn't really have "a style" yet. "I'm trying to represent what the thing feels like, and I think through music, lyricism, and rhythm, I can get closer to the emotion," she says.
It may be her first play, but seven methods has established Lee-Jones as an exciting new voice to watch. The playwright has been involved with Royal Court Theatre since age 17 (although she is now just in her mid-20s), and she credits its support with giving her the belief that she could do anything.
The modern vernacular of Cleo and Kara is inspired by growing up in urban London, not only in the slang, but in spirit. "There's something unapologetic in the nature of a lot the Black women I grew up around there," she says.
seven methods was well-reviewed in London and Lee-Jones won a Critics Circle Theatre Award for the work. Unlike her characters, she's seen no backlash for the ideas in her play. She wonders if it's her association with Royal Court that has saved her from any negativity. "Because I was backed by them, I think my work was viewed and considered in a way that it might not have been if I just made this play and tried to take it out on my own," she says.
Lee-Jones does note that in light of seven method's critiques of cultural appropriation and clout-chasing, there is a certain irony in her use of Kylie Jenner's name in the title of the play. "It may be misleading, or clickbait, using the whiteness of this woman" she admits. "But through the proximity to whiteness, I'm getting an opportunity for people to look at Black women's stories in a different way."
The Under the Radar Festival at The Public Theater runs through January 22. This year's roster of events includes performances from 36 artists and companies at six venues, along with the return of the Under the Radar + Joe's Pub: In Concert series. For a full festival lineup and tickets, visit PublicTheater.org.