Review by Kitty Drexel, American Theatre Critics Association member
Photo by Paul Fox/Company One
(Boston, MA) The prep work done for Hype Man is intensely impressive. From the dramaturgy work by Baxter and Gil, beat making staging/choreography performed in chorus with the sound engineering by Debra Marcus, the combined efforts of the cast and crew of are not to be taken lightly. A lot of it looks deceptively simple. It isn’t. That it does speaks greatly of the craft hours that went into this production.
Hype Man: A Break Beat Play is a play with music about a white man who refuses to use his privilege to benefit his family. Pinnacle (Michael Knowlton) is a white rapper on the verge of legitimate fame. Verb (Kadahj Bennett) is his hype man. Peep One (Rachel Cognata) is their producer. All is looking up until the day 17 year old Jerrod Davis is gunned down (18 shots) by L.A. cops. Verb and Peep want use hip hop to commemorate and condemn the event. Pinnacle says that it isn’t his fight. Hype Man takes an intimate, intersectional look at what artists owe when the art they are borrowing doesn’t belong to them.
I thought that the rap performances by Bennett and Knowlton were fantastic. My more knowledgeable companion regarded them as merely “okay.” I couldn’t tell if this brush off was in homage to the posturing within Hip Hop culture, or if my companion was sincere. Regardless, it doesn’t take a degree to see that Knowlton, Bennett, and Cognata performed the music as well as they did their dialogue. Their clarity of message, electric energy, and pure danceability are proof enough.
Hip Hop is a Black artform. Albeit a problematic institution, like jazz, tap, swing dance, Southern cuisine, fashion, or anything else fun, white people have appropriated what they wanted from Hip Hop and conveniently neglected to self-educate on its history. What remains are the sick beats and anger. The systemic struggles of Black people in their unending fight to be viewed as human beings, as equal is forgotten. Pinnacle (looking like Eminem meets Andy Samberg in Popstar:Never Stop Never Stopping) can’t even admit that the color of his skin gives him even the slightest advantage over Verb. It takes Verb a hot minute to recognize Peep’s struggle to be woman… And a woman in the studio. Peep’s emotional labor is as taken for granted as Verb’s presence.
White audiences expect certain things during an evening at the theatre. What a white patron should understand is that Hype Man isn’t for them. It includes us but it isn’t for us the way Lemonade and Black Panther aren’t for us. Enjoy responsibly kids but this show isn’t about you. If patrons want something about them, try anything else.
Idris Goodwin’s Hype Man is a fairly gentle prod at white people for enjoying Black culture without taking any responsibility in its creation. Aside from its political statements, this show is incredibly entertaining as a concert. Actors of color should note the monologues available for auditions or study. “The Boy Shinin’” is incredibly catchy. Watch the music video.
Lastly, we as artists have a responsibility to fight oppression using the tools we have. It is because we are the storytellers at the front line, and because we know what it is to be devalued by the govt, the populace, and our families. As humans, we owe it to past and future generations to leave the world better than we entered it. We have to step up when times get difficult, not back down because it’s “hard.” I shouldn’t have to explain further why you should care about other people.
Presented by Company One Theatre
By Idris Goodwin
Directed by Shawn LaCount
Music direction & beat making by Kadahj Bennett
Dramaturgy by Jessie Baxter, Tatiana Isabel Gil
Choreography by Misha Shields
Jan 26 – Feb 24, 2018
Review originally posted in New England Theatre Geek