Ise Lyfe Asks Who's Really Krazy? 

The Oakland spoken-word poet explores the relativity of happiness in his one-man show.

The impetus for Ise Lyfe's one-man show Who's Krazy? came a couple years ago, when the East Oakland-raised spoken-word poet was sitting on a panel at Smith University next to a guy who used a lot of flowery SAT words. "There's this dude next to me on the panel — a black man," Lyfe explained. "He's like a total tight-ass. Like I don't know how you'd write this. It's like, 'Well, you know, I find it indubitably true,'" he said, modulating his voice into a high-pitched and nasal tone. "I was like, 'How did he get this way?' But I agreed with everything he had to say, and he agreed with everything I had to say. And then when it was over I thought, 'Wow, we probably saw each other as two totally different people.'"

This thought got Lyfe waxing philosophical. He started thinking about how people may share certain fundamental characteristics — humanity, soul, and morality come to mind — despite being compromised by their circumstances. And about how success and happiness are actually relative terms: the homeless man without a job or a MySpace page might actually fare better than the corporate powerhouse woman with a 9 to 5, because he gets to pick his nose all day while she stares at a computer monitor. Lyfe said he has hung out with every hyphy rapper on the radio, and that — coming from a "social justice perspective" — he always used to assume that "well, they must not know." Actually, he said, "when you talk to them they know exactly what's going on. They're quite versed in the issues." The problem, he surmised, is that most people adhere to the role that society has cultivated for them.

Such ideas inspired Who's Krazy?, a play about 31-year-old marketing exec Milton Victor, who works for a firm that makes poisonous products and sells them to the black community. "It's not really about getting black people to like the products," Lyfe explained. "It's about getting them to validate so that a white pop culture audience will buy into it." Also featuring Milton's haircutter brother, a smart-ass narrator named "Reason," a George Bush/"American fear factor" allegory named W., and the venal boss who dubs Milton his "great black hope," the play starts in medias res, with Milton speaking at a board meeting filled with mannequins and stuffed animals, and then travels back in time to explain why the character eventually snaps. Directed by Billy Hutton, Who's Krazy? premieres Friday, March 21, at Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts (1428 Alice St., Oakland). 8 p.m., $15-$20


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