Sunday, October 11, 2015

How We Got On—Portland Playhouse—NE Portland

The Rhythm of Life

This story of rap music is by Idris Goodwin and directed by Jen Rowe.  It is playing at their space, 602 NE Prescott St. (parking lot less than 2 blocks North of the theatre), through October 25th.  For more information, go to their site at www.portlandplayhouse.org or call 503-488-5822.

I must confess that Rap is not my favorite genre of music.  I much prefer Rock & Roll, Folk and Classical, as that’s what I grew up with.  To me, when I’ve hear Rap or Hip-Hop music, it is so deafeningly loud that any lyrics are lost, and the rhythm so repetitious, that it simply gives me a headache.  But when I’ve read the words of it, I can appreciate the poetry.  And this production does give me an appreciation of this genre by exploring the people and the roots of the music.

The late 80’s are accredited with when it began to grow.  Originating in the suburbs of the Mid-West, it took on a life of its own, partly because of the creation of suburbia, strip malls and a younger generation that needed an outlet to express themselves.  We began the journey with the Selector (Ithica Tell), a type of narrator (who will also play the “adult” roles in the play, as well), and lead us, like the DJ’s of that generation, to the different artists and music of Rap.

Hank (Joe Gibson) is a young man, from a middle-class suburban family, who sees a need to express himself.  His talent consists in writing his poetry on paper but doesn’t seem to have the necessary presence to perform it.  Enter Julian (Chip Sherman), from a more troubled home life, who struts about like he has a rocket in his pocket, but does have the required charisma to perform this material.  And a necessary third ingredient must be added, the female voice, Luann (Ashley Nicole Williams), herself having bottled up frustrations, finds that she is intuitive in her creations of rhythm and words.

They have marked their territory but find that to truly make it work they need, as Luann predicts, to “breathe in joy” and assimilate the anger, for their words to have meaning and connect with others.  Like the old saying, “it takes a whole village to raise a child,” so they discover it takes the three of them combined to create an Art called Rap.  And, as in most cases, this is not about the end result, which when flung world-wide, will change and evolve, but it is about the journey, how we get to where we’re going with what we got.

The small intimate stage works very well for this production.  And the tower is terrific (designer, Daniel Meeker), as it alone seems to transport you to another place, above the world, closer to the stars and to dreaming.  The director, Rowe, certainly uses this space well as the cast flits and flies themselves around this space with un-abandoned glee.  She also definitely understands the material and how she wants the actors to present it, as she has chosen well her cast.

Tell and Sherman are from the Post 5 family and always amazing in whatever they do.  Tell has a wonderfully expressive voice and does well in presenting the other characters with simply slight variances in posture and expression, to portray these individuals, a tribute to her talent.  Sherman bodily looks like he could take off for the moon at any moment, as he is rarely subdued and uses his physicality to express himself, much like a very accomplished dancer.  Exciting performer.  Gibson gives us a clear view of a frustrated artist, having his artistic soul contained within, but unable to fully break loose to express it.  Well conceived.  And Williams, completing and complimenting the trio, is attractive, and full of fire and spit and dew, truly in touch with the elements.  A powerful performance.

I recommend this production, even if you don’t care for Rap music, because for me, it’s not so much about the music but how the creative process works and this gives you a good insight into that.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.