Written and performed by Steve Connell and Sekou (tha misfit)
Directed and developed by Robert Egan
Produced by Signature Theatre
Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson
The Word Begins is a wickedly rough swirl of vignettes blended from the styles of Def Poetry Jam meets the Last Poets served with heaping helpings of urban slam. The dynamic duo writers/ performers, Steve Connell and Sekou (tha misfit) cover lots of social territory, almost too much, with nostalgic reflections, in yo’ face gangster moves, tough as nails reality checks, admonitions for justice spritzed with hints of hope, love, and genuine faith in the human capacity to do the right thing. Connell and Sekou have mastered their respective poetry slams and deliver their segments with polish and pizzazz-the poetry snaps, crackles and pops where it’s supposed to, the undulating words ripple on cue and sting like a whip. The guys are good.
Their rhythms bounce almost as much as they do as they hustle across the stage hawking their various scenes, playing off each other with lightening quick precision, engaging the crowd with vivid passages and descriptions as well as images reflected on multiple screens. Nothing draws in a video-crazed society like flat screen video monitors, in this case, around ten of them, positioned at multiple levels upstage (Michael Clark’s visuals with set design by Myung Hee Cho.) The projections span the spectrum, from political profiles, to words and statements, to dynamic flowing colors, even old haunting images of lynchings. The two have all the accoutrements, the technology, the energy and passion to extol their work, the word. Now all they need is a better idea of how to mine the gemstones still buried inside their rich material.
Don’t get me wrong- it’s still good stuff, important cultural reflections, point-counterpoint reality checks. Where else would we get a chance to see the juxtaposition of stunning visuals, acerbic social commentary, off-the charts performance artistry and all around creativity? Still, with so much material crammed into one sitting, without much of a through story line for some semblance of connection, The Word Begins could just as well as be the World According to… and that’s fine, too. It’s all a matter of perspective, and P.O.V.
They had me at the Word. I got on board, but even though it was a fun, stomach-clenching ride, they didn’t really take me anywhere I haven’t been before. And several of the segments get stuck in a rut of ghetto slapstick. Nothing’s wrong with ratcheting up the discomfort level to make a point, or assaulting our sense of complacency, shaking us out of comfort zones with a stinging smack of crude language. Still, there’s a limit to how far you can go spouting off an alphabet soup of words who’s very letters imply the intent to degrade, denigrate, segregate and emasculate, whether it’s the N-word, both the B and C-word, or the F!!k’ing X-Y-Z word. Enough already.
After a roller coaster ride of raw and edgy moments, some potty-mouthed sexual excursions, and a slap-stick vaudeville “coon” show rendition, the duo share a segment of heartfelt personal experiences that bring us right back into their fold. Yes, they’re endearing, too. The production ends it opened, with the same touching image and message of a fluttering dove, symbolizing freedom, possibility, hope. Their potential is limitless. As dynamic as they are, Connell and Sekou could have an even more powerful impact than the incredible Will Powers’ Flow (Studio Theater), or Daniel Beaty who packed Arena with his Emergence-See!, because they have something those other productions do not – each other. They could be unstoppable, building on each other, harnessing all that amazing energy to explode into more unexplored territory of observation and analysis. With more tightening and focus about what they truly want to accomplish, The Word could indeed begin.
- (Running time: approx 1:40, no intermission)
- Where: Signature Theater 4200 Campbell Ave in Arlington, VA.
- When: Thru Dec 2nd. Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30; Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m;. Saturday and Sunday 2 pm matinees, and Sunday 7 p.m.
- Tickets: $53-$63. Look for the special $20 offer in DCTS column Hot Tickets. For additional information, call 703-820-9771 or visit the website.