Till the Break of Dawn
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
September 12, 2007
In a world where everything has been co-opted either by international corporations or the government, is it still possible to have a revolution? Would anyone still want one if it meant giving up one's everyday comforts and amenities? Those are just two of the many pertinent questions raised by Danny Hoch's boldly ambitious and hugely entertaining new play, Till the Break of Dawn. Incisive social commentary joins forces with brash urban humor to create one of the most intellectually and emotionally engaging pieces of theatre I've seen in a long, long time. Hoch's play burns with necessity and serves up hard-hitting laughs as it simultaneously mourns the spirit of 1960s political activism and encourages today's materialistic, media-saturated young people to adopt its tenets.
Set in the late summer of 2001, Till the Break of Dawn spotlights Gibran, an Internet entrepreneur and Hip-Hop activist who leads a group of like-minded friends to the Hip-Hop Arts Festival in Cuba. They're hoping to build bridges for future cross-cultural outreach and soak up some revolutionary inspiration. "Free health care, free education...I can't wait to see it in action," Gibran gushes. "The Cubans gonna teach us some shit for real."
You bet they are. The group's bubble is quickly burst once they witness the realities of Cuban life firsthand. Discrimination, poverty, and many other conditions they thought didn't exist there are abundant. The disparity between the lavish treatment deep-pocketed tourists receive and the impoverished quality of life many Cubans lead becomes evident quickly as Gibran and his crew learn some tough lessons from a pair of American expatriates that includes a white collar embezzler and a fugitive member of the Black Panther Party, a visiting French rapper also in town for the festival, and a local fisherman who is also a baseball umpire (for real).
The broad scope of Hoch's vision is both impressive and dazzling as he attempts no less than the uplift and unification of underserved communities of color around the world. Everything gets touched upon here: racial in-fighting between different Latino communities; America's imperialist global colonization via advertising; the double standards applied to the black community's usage of the "n" word; the fine line between business and activism—you name it. That Hoch is able to pull this all off without being preachy or dogmatic is a miracle.
Till the Break of Dawn is also funny as hell. Hoch mixes passion with a sense of humor that's simultaneously as sharp as a knife and as rude as a mother snap. Take, for instance, Gibran's re-telling of a dream in which he is kidnapped in a helicopter by Karl Marx:
And I'm lookin' down and there's a million black women in thongs shakin' their
asses, and a million brothers standing around them in platinum chains, nodding
their heads sippin' champagne, and Karl Marx hands me a joystick, and I push the
button, and bombs start dropping on all the beaches. And I look at Karl Marx like,
"Yo! What did you make me do?" And Karl Marx says, "word up nigga, act like
you know."...I mean YO—what the fuck was THAT about???
Hoch also populates the play with a richly drawn cast of colorful characters who keep things interesting. There's Robert and Rebecca, a pair of NYC schoolteachers whose five-year relationship has reached the breaking point; Hector, a loud-mouthed web designer with insurrection on the brain, and his more sensible girlfriend, Nancy, an art curator from the Bronx; Gibran's partner, Adam, who runs a small record label (and is the only white person on the trip); and Big Miff, a stoic gangster rapper who grew up with Gibran and Robert.
As a director, Hoch keeps the energy high and the events moving fast, leaving the heavy lifting to his talented cast, who flesh out their respective roles with salt-of-the-earth moxie. The standouts, for me, include the hilarious Flaco Navaja as Hector, Dominic Colon as Big Miff, Matthew Lee-Erlbach as Adam, and Luis Vega as Felito, the fisherman/umpire. But, pretty much every member of the cast—which also includes Bambadjan Bamba, pattydukes, Gwendolen Hardwick, Jimmie James, Jaymes Jorsling, Maribel Lizardo, and Johnny Sanchez—is outstanding.
On top of everything else it achieves, Till the Break of Dawn succeeds at making politics and social relevancy cool again—something that Hoch wisely, but subtly, acknowledges it needs to be in order to lure young people back in. Perhaps this absorbing play will be a much-needed step in that direction. I certainly hope so—it deserves to be.