Captivating take on race & friendship in the world of hip-hop extended.
By: Patrick Christiano
December 1, 2018: Idris Goodwin’s HYPE MAN: a break beat play continues The Flea’s Color Brave season with a captivating look at race and friendship played out against the backdrop of hip-hop. The story, tautly directed by Kristan Seemel with Flea Artistic Director Niegel Smith, is set three years ago in an unnamed American city and follows two hip hop artists on the threshold of success. The two men, Pinnacle, played by Matt Stango, and Verb, played by Shakur Tolliver, were best buddies growing up on the mean streets of the unnamed city. Pinnacle is a white man, who writes and rhymes, while Verb, a black man just out of prison, hypes the crowd and adds authority to Pinnacle’s vision of himself as a hip-hop artist.
When the action begins, they are in a recording studio waiting for their beat maker, a mixed-race female named Peep One, played by Tay Bass. On this particular-day she is late because of a traffic jam caused by the shooting of an unarmed black man. When Peep One finally arrives, the trio begin to rehearse for a gig on The Tonight Show, but the shooting will interfere with their work and challenge the three in ways they could not have envisioned.
Verb is undone by yet another killing of an unarmed black man, and he is especially incensed since the black teenager was shot 18 times. He wants the group to use their appearance on national television to make a stand against police brutality, but Pinnacle and Peep One will have none of it. They view this as a new plateau in their development and not the place to introduce politics into their messaging.
Verb disregards their wishes and emerges from the background on national television by finding a brazen way to comment on the killing of the teenager named Jarod. The resulting conflict between the men will cut to the core of their friendship in a smart and entertaining tale that showcases The Flea at its best.
Goodwin is a provocateur pursuing many ideas that arise from the central conflict of his story, and his characters are well developed. He doesn’t, however, delve into the complicated relationship between the two childhood friends, who are now rivals, and unfortunately the delightfully raucous ending comes a little too easily. Nonetheless, Goodwin makes some excellent points while posing thought-provoking questions about timely topics.
The skilled cast of three is outstanding, each powerful in different ways, and when it’s time for some musical numbers, they raise the bar and the roof. The award-winning playwright has a couple of hip-hop releases on his resume and this trio of artists know how to rise and shine.
Staged by Kristan Seemel and Niegel Smith in The Pete, the smaller of The Flea’s theaters, with the audience on four sides serves the play beautifully. Their production whizzes by to a dynamic ending, and a reason to lift your hands to the sky and let your light shine.
HYPE MAN: a break beat play runs through December 18, Thursday–Monday at 7pm, with Sunday matinees at 3pm. Tickets start at $15 with the lowest priced tickets available on a first-come, first-served basis. The Pete at The Flea Theater is located at 20 Thomas Street between Church and Broadway. Purchase tickets by calling 212- 352-3101 or online at www.theflea.org.
Photography: Hunter Canning