How We Got On by Idris Goodwin
Directed by Wendy C. Goldberg
The Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville
Through April 1, 2012
Live video blog review with Joan Lipkin of The Vital Voice
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Synopsis: “Hank, Julian and Luann are the flip side to the A story of hip hop’s rise in the late 1980s—kids who forge a cultural identity in the white suburbs by dueling with poetry in parking lots and dubbing beats on a boom box. In this coming-of-age tale remixed, a DJ loops us through the lives of three Midwestern teen rappers who discover the power of harmony over discord.”
If I had to single out one play as the high point of this year’s Humana Festival, this would be it. As someone whose musical tastes run more to classical, cabaret, musical theatre and vintage rock, I wasn’t sure I’d find much to love in a piece in which rap and hip-hop play a crucial role. That idea, as it turns out, was totally wack.
How We Got On is a literate, poetic, deeply felt and warmly human look at three suburban teens (two black and one Latino) in 1988 trying to make sense of their lives, their ambitions, and their relationships with their parents while learning to express themselves with rhymes and beats. A DJ/narrator holds it all together and weaves a highly educational history of history of rap into the story. The result is a compelling, moving, funny, and exciting piece of theatre that deserves—and will likely get—a wider audience in the future.
Terrell Donnell Sledge is the bright and vulnerable Hank, who provides the rhymes for the brash beats and stage persona of Brian Quijada’s aggressive Julian. As the play progresses, Hank learns that he must let go of his fear and Julian of his anger and need to succeed at any cost before they can truly express themselves. Luann (Deonna Bouye) helps them find the key to unlock their souls—and shows them that a girl can rap and rhyme with the best of them. These three charismatic and gifted performers are not only fully invested in their roles but prove to be tremendously entertaining rappers as well with crystal-clear elocution and some wicked dance moves.
As the DJ Selector (who also takes on other roles, including all the parents) Crystal Fox is slick, soulful, and thoroughly engaging.
Playwright Goodwin describes himself as a “Break Beat Poet” whose work includes essays, poetry, and rap performances as well as plays. How We Got On makes a very strong case for rap and hip-hop as poetry, and demonstrates how they connect with far older traditions, including the basic human need to move, groove, and sing. It’s a joyous celebration of the things that make us human and give our lives meaning. Casting it might be a challenge for some companies, but even so I expect this to be making the rounds for years to come.
Join in the discussion on Twitter with the #hf36 and #humanafest hash tags and follow me @clavazzi. Look for Joan Lipkin's reviews at The Vital Voice.