Written & Performed by Sekou Andrews & Steve Connell
Directed by Robert Egan
Hip-Hop Theater Festival on Tour
in Sarasota Ringling Museum's BEYOND BLING Summer Arts Program
Historic Asolo Theatre, Ringling Museum of Art, May 28, 2011

Reviewed by Marie J. Kilker

"Tonight we take back (what must be spoken and heard)," the performers proclaim. "The Word must be passed on." Supposedly God told them, "Give me a masterpiece. Do not make me regret you." Using a few stools left, center, and right, with background projections of pure colors that change according to their subjects and moods, one white (Steve Connell) and one black (Sekou Andrews) begin by going back to their youth. In a series of vignettes, vaudeville-like turns, sketches, addresses, they keep connecting recounts of their experiences and views, with polemic, political references, discussions of timely topics (from religious views to wars to killings to racism), and pleas for sincere and personal means of expressing love.

They stage a TV-like reality show (with hip-hop, rap, lots of crotch grabbing) and a threat-of-murder scene within a satiric "Great American Minstrel Show." In their contrasts of blacks and whites, perhaps their most original thought is "Name a third world nation that is white." Mini-dramas have racial overtones, undertones, and such in-your-face tones as that infusing an invitation to women to come onstage and copulate with them. It'd be the first step toward getting everyone to do the same and turn the black vs. white world into beige. They've almost been joined by a small parcel, in center rear seats, of fulsome young white nubile gals in black spandex and chunky metal jewelry who've greeted almost every joke or pronouncement with raucous laughter or appreciative screams throughout. They may have been subdued by the hefty black middle-aged male, also jeweled and in tight black tee and trousers, who accompanied them (eventually out). Ultimately, though, Steve and Sekou don't get to "liberate all these repressed ladies" but only to make fun of old fashioned romantic talk.

As part of an "Art of Our Time" series, Ringling Museum is staging "BEYOND BLING: Voices of Hip-Hop in Art" from May 19 to August 14, highlighting Hip-Hop visual art but including performances, film, and lectures. The Word Begins seemed to promise definitions and explanations of the movement and phenomenon, that probably drew its predominantly older, traditional theatre-going audience. Despite the performers' skills, their text disappointed. Little differed from what so many of us saw and heard in street performances and on campuses end of the '60s or in blacksploitation and urban entertainment for decades. Maybe it was here presented a little differently for legit theatre, if not for comedy clubs and by some improv groups. (There are both in Sarasota, just as clever but, I guess, not seen by Ringling's events curator.)

The Word Begins lasted an hour and 50 minutes. Sorry, God.

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