Forteez Bluntz Chickenhedz 'N' Uva Necessateez
nytheatre.com review by Ethan Angelica
August 12, 2008
"Generativity" was the word of choice for the two hours of discussion that followed my viewing of Forteez Bluntz Chickenhedz 'n' Uva Necessateez, Bashi Rose and Mitchell Ferguson's "hiphoptic tragedy." Indeed, this poetically violent meditation on black history, ancestry, and politics seems to circle around blocked generative energies—the strong human desire to create and the social and political roadblocks that stand in our way, regardless of the color of our skin. And it is not a play to be taken lightly.
Forteez revolves around a homeless father-son pair (Pops and Son), poets of the street, who find themselves both blocked and freed by their history and ancestry. They have the power to commune with their ancestors, but also the great burden of living with the injustices they have experienced. While trying to avenge wrongs committed against women in their lives, the two men attempt to "get the work done," but find themselves stopped at every turn by politics, history, and prejudices, each of which becomes the subject of their critique. And while, for Pops and Son, "poetry is work, and work is poetry," this play is not simply an intellectual exercise. They scream poetry to nobody, masturbate to no effect, and even murder an offstage victim, with no change in their ability to move forward. Even the structure of the play reflects this circularity, with its unsettling end echoing the first few, gripping seconds of action. It is disturbing, and at the same time fascinating, food for thought that is visually and aurally burned into your mind.
Rose and Ferguson's words are truly the star of this play. The script glides between quotidian language, heightened text, and hip-hop poetry with ease. Whether spoken, sung, or screamed, the rhythm of the language drives the action, and, under Jamie Robert Carrillo's steady direction, I was swept through seemingly dense discussions of race relations with grace and agility. What do we hope to accomplish as humans, and what parts of history or society stand in the way? While some of the early political history "rants" lost me, the later powerhouse hip-hop recollections of race relations in the U.S. are moving, thought-provoking, and enthralling. Rose and Ferguson have truly made the poetry work for them.
And, yet, these words would not be so effective were it not for two exceptionally nuanced and dynamic performances by the play's leads. Both Ferguson, as Pops, and Jaymes Jorsling, as Son, offer a charismatic energy on the stage that is only matched by the majestic power they find in stillness, and their masterful command of language. To watch them work off each other, feeding off of Bill Pierce's minimalist set and Andre McKnight's enveloping soundscape, is thrilling, and gives the play's deep ideas a real, honest, and palpable pulse.
An absorbing, demanding, disturbing, and fascinating new play, Forteez Bluntz Chickenhedz 'n' Uva Necessateez's themes and questions still stick with me. Come ready to be challenged and provoked, as the ideas are enduring, and promise to make this a play that retains relevance for years to come.