The Word Begins
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
January 9, 2010
The Word Begins introduces audiences to two smart, talented performers, Sekou (tha misfit) Andrews and Steve Connell. Andrews is African American and Connell is white, which makes their creative partnership kind of singular. Racial issues are paramount in this show, along with other pressing concerns: corruption and rampant greed in high places, injustice, terrorism, war, and—relievedly—love. Andrews and Connell are terrific actors, loaded with charisma and presence and energy, and they are remarkable, soulful poets, as we learn as their spoken word/hip-hop-inflected show progresses.
They're worried about the state of the world; but more important, they seem determined to figure out how to fix it. The Word Begins soars on the promise of humanity: it's framed by a poem that Andrews and Connell perform in tandem in which they depict a God who tells the people he created in his image that all He wants from each of them is one masterpiece, something that will allow Him not to regret that He gave them life. It's a beautiful, powerful thought that informs much of this show.
In between are segments about race relations (imaginatively presented as a sort of tag-team prize fight among representative black and white Americans), crime, childhood inspiration and faith, and post-9/11 warfare. The only really weak spot comes in a piece in which the actors portray a gangsta rap star and a post-Andrew Dice Clay insult comic; here, the targets of their intended parody get too much play, with the misogynism of these characters getting too much time to clog the air before any irony helps to clear the offensiveness away. And a would-be interactive sketch, in which the two performers propose to end racism by having sex with women of all races, suffers from a comically intended, presumably feigned moment of homosexual panic that undermines a lot of the goodwill they generate elsewhere in the show.
But the opening and closing pieces, precision-performed poetry about the reasons to cave in against so much that's seemingly unsolvable in today's world—and then, all the reasons not to—provide genuinely moving inspiration. And a gorgeous, funny segment, in which Connell teaches Andrews how to woo a woman with words, is a definite highlight.
The material is written by Andrews and Connell, and "directed and developed" by Robert Egan. It's not absolutely clear what Egan's contribution is, but the overall arc of The Word Begins is problematic. It doesn't feel like a coherent theatre piece so much as an audition—a compendium of "greatest hits" very loosely bound together. I'd like to see Andrews and Connell in a full-length piece that feels more organically cohesive.
Nevertheless, I am glad to have made their acquaintance in The Word Begins, and will look forward to more of their insightful, entertaining brand of theatre in the future.