JOB, The Hip-Hop Saga:
A Pseudo-Biblical Hip-Hop Musical
in Two Acts

Lyrics by Jerome Saibil and Eli Batalion
Music by Jerome Saibil, Eli Batalion and Paul Bercovitch.
Performed By Saibil and Batalion
Tarragon Theatre in Toronto through December 18

Reviewed by Robin Breon

Even the most captious critic couldn't deny that JOB The Hip-Hop Saga is widely entertaining, especially in the first act. These two white boys from Montreal have done a splendid job in constructing a jubilant romp that might be subtitled Bertrand Russell's A History of Western Philosophy brings it all home to the hood.

JOB is, in its essence, a vibrant parody of the poetry of hip-hop lyrics and a terrific example of form and style triumphing over meaning, emotion and content. To be sure, this isn't the first time someone has taken a run at The Book's much-afflicted hero of the Old Testament. Archibald MacLeish (a very fine poet in his own right) took a run at it in his 1958 play, J.B.. This new hip-hop version has the story updated to the internecine struggles of a contemporary recording company. A good choice in that there is probably not a more iniquitous business anywhere. The requisite cycle of pain and redemption, however, doesn't even scratch the surface when we discover that, after suffering a career setback of major proportions, our hero, Job Lowe (played variously by both Jerome Saibil and Eli Batalion) learns that in order to redeem himself he must simply apologize (!) to the president of the company and all will be forgiven.

To ensure that we draw the correct conclusions from the first act, proper referencing is done to most of modern philosophy by way of sly asides from the likes of -- among many others -- Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and Malthus (the latter now apparently obligatory since the success of Urinetown).

By the second act the whole project is careening off the track -- derailed by the lack of an original idea for the B side of the record (in hip-hop you can mix metaphors freely). It is a pesky and recurring problem that has plagued many a playwright. In a desperate attempt to save face, the playwrights have provided the audience with a one-page dissertation on the Nietzschean conception that underlies the premise of the story. This alone is evidence that the project is in deep, deep trouble.

Still, the sheer joy and energy of hip-hop shines through and carries the day. Through a confluence of events that I won't go into here, I recently attended a concert performance of the hip-hop group, Dead Prez. It was an exciting evening that entertained, challenged and provoked the audience -- which is part of the whole hip-hop experience. So I guess what I'm sayin' is: check it out, y'all, and get real with this stuff. Yo!

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