the break/s: a mixtape for stage
nytheatre.com review by Kristin Skye Hoffmann
January 10, 2009
As I entered The Public Theater's intimate space to see the break/s: a mixtape for stage, I was bombarded with questions. "Name a demographic!" "What do you think about white people and hip-hop?" "What do you think about women in hip-hop?" Tommy Shepherd aka Soulati had a microphone and an enormous smile, warming up the crowd for what was seeming to be a light, somewhat interactive hip-hop show. DJ Excess stood on stage in front of one of three large screens displaying video footage of graffiti art, mixing the pre-show music. Then playwright/performer Marc Bamuthi Joseph took the stage and immediately the energy changed into something more serious.
He entered without any grandeur, but by the end it felt like he had. Bamuthi has accomplished something incredible with the break/s. With very little assistance on stage, he has tackled some "deep shit." Through movement, multimedia, monologue, and what are presented as true tales, he tackles the ups and downs of interracial relationships, re-analyzes demographic stereotypes, and basks in the beauty of dance and words. It is a perspective nothing short of astonishing.
This man is a feminist in the purest sense of the term, finding honor and equality for both sexes and all tribes of human beings without playing a character. It is very clear that he has a deep respect and passion for life, so much so that it becomes contagious. He dances with abandon and speaks in prose that made me feel like, even if memorized, I was witnessing something organic. The intense ups and downs of his live performance, spliced with Eli Jacobs-Fantuzzi's documentary films, take the audience from joyful highs to peaceful, almost mournful lows. Cleverly, Jacobs-Fantuzzi's documentary subjects were asked similar questions to the ones posed to the live audience filing into the theatre, giving us a sense involvement.
There is not a clear beginning, middle, or end of this piece, but it does not suffer for it. This is a commentary that is similar to stream of consciousness, going in and out of different times in the playwright's life. I can also say this; I know NOTHING about hip-hop and I truly enjoyed this production. I left with this phrase spinning through my mind; "If you don't commit to spinning on your head, you will break your neck." That is the way to see this show. Giving oneself over without expectations. As I left the theatre, it was the way I felt like living my life.