Scarlett Johansson

Playbill Pick: Chris Grace: As Scarlett Johansson at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

In this show, an Asian man plays a female celebrity playing a Marvel superhero—there are many layers (and wigs).

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the biggest arts festival in the world, with nearly 3,500 shows. This year, Playbill is in Edinburgh for the entire month in August for the festival and we’re taking you with us. Follow along as we cover every single aspect of the Fringe, aka our real-life Brigadoon!

As part of our Edinburgh Fringe coverage, Playbill is seeing a whole lotta shows—and we’re sharing which ones you absolutely must see if you’re only at the Fringe for a short amount of time. Consider these Playbill Picks a friendly, opinionated guide as you try to choose a show at the festival.

I must admit, when I first added Chris Grace: As Scarlett Johansson to my list of things to see at the Fringe, I already knew what I wanted the show to be: a comedy show poking fun at the Marvel actor who, in 2017, decided that it was appropriate for her to play a Japanese woman in the film Ghost in the Shell. Like many Asian Americans, I have jokingly called Johansson and Emma Stone, who played a Chinese-Hawaiian woman in Aloha, some of my favorite Asian actresses. It wasn’t to insult them, but to make the reality of the situation more bearable—that in the late 2010s, Hollywood preferred to hire white actors to play Asian characters rather than have Asian actors play the leads in films.

But at the top of his Edinburgh Fringe show, comedian Chris Grace (of NBC’s Superstore) tells the audience that the show I expected was not the show he was going to deliver: this was not going to be a hit piece into Johansson. Instead, what Grace delivers is a heady piece of theatre—not only because he wears a leaning tower of ever-growing wigs.

Grace starts the show off by telling us he is going to play Johansson, in a blonde wig, who begins by reciting the biography of her life and career. A sequence where Grace dons a spandex bodysuit and dispassionately recreates Johansson’s scene in Iron Man 2 inspired laughter and cheers in the audience. Then, as Johansson, he justifies Ghost in the Shell by saying, “An actor can do anything they want, if they mean well”—which made the room wince.

Just when you get the gist of the show, Grace turns it on its head, literally. He plops a black wig on top of the blonde one and says that he is now Scarlett Johansson, who is going to be telling us the story of Chris Grace. The play continues to unfold, layer by layer, as Grace’s stack of wigs on his head grows higher and higher.

Grace is smartly, and athletically, making a point about privilege—that even though Johansson is a woman in Hollywood, she still enjoys more opportunity than an Asian actor of her caliber. Grace contrasts her biography with his, which included a drama teacher telling him to get eyelid surgery so his face would be more expressive.

But Grace isn’t just casting blame. He also interrogates his own complicity, such as his decision to adopt a non-ethnically specific stage name for himself. Grace is the name of his mother, who died last year. But he also points out: “You are onstage performing a version of yourself to try to get people to like you, in the basement of a Nando’s.” Here, Grace is able to strike a genius balance of blistering insight and sharp humor.

The show may be called Chris Grace: As Scarlett Johansson but its important message goes beyond Grace or Johansson. The entertainment industry forces people to try and fit themselves into boxes and perform a version of themselves. It then presents its preconceptions about humanity to the audience, influencing the way we perceive ourselves. When this is the paradigm, is it possible to truly see each other? Or to see ourselves?

Grace jokes throughout that he’ll be “solving racism” with this show. Obviously, Chris Grace: As Scarlett Johansson doesn’t do that, no show can. But it does something truly beautiful: through complex portraits of two artists, it helps us to see and to understand. And it leaves us with a final image that is evocative and deeply powerful.

Chris Grace: As Scarlett Johansson runs until August 28 at Assembly George Square Studios – Studio Five. Get tickets here. Grace also has the stamina of a teenager, because he’s doing two other shows at the Fringe: Baby Wants Candy, an improv musical, and Shamilton! The Improvised Hip Hop Musical, a Hamilton parody. Below, see behind-the-scenes and on stage photos from Chris Grace: As Scarlett Johansson.

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