The thing that is so key about Hip Hop is that no matter what one professes to know about it, there is always something new to take away. This is what turns that professor into the student.
Even after doing research on what the piece pertains to before going in, being at Seed, written by Radha Blank and directed by Niegel Smith, will leave the viewer examining social rhetoric on many levels while gasping for breath after the emotional climax is realized.
In this instance the storytelling element of hip hop takes center stage as a complex tale of survival begins to unfold. The rhymes are there, sure, but the flow is found in a rhythm void of music. In a small theatre on a stage not overwhelmed by too loud set design that can distract, the viewer is held captive by their senses.
Our characters sit in simple folding chairs reading their scripts. They play off one another, forcing the audience to read between the lines and imagine themselves in the shoes of each player in this entrancing tale.
Take the supposed heroine Anne (Bridgit Antoinette Evans), a clinical social worker trying to save souls from the mean streets of Harlem. We immediately recognize her plight and empathize. We at once hate and take pity on LaTonya (Jocelyn Bioh), a single mom trying to raise a young impressionable son on a below minimum wage paycheck. We fear but then want to embrace the misunderstood rebel convict, Rashawn (Pernell Walker) who won’t let anyone in emotionally and dismiss but then feel remorse for doubting the militant father, Twan (Jaime Lincoln Smith) just trying to provide for his family. And then there’s Che Che, played byKhadim Diop.
Immediately capturing the attention of the audience and never letting go, this young man holds his own amongst the veteran artists, though he, too, is an accomplished performer who showed talent as early as preschool, and even steals the show. It’s easy to see why Anne took an interest in this gifted child, one can even justify their May/December rapport; Che Che is wise beyond his years but so innocent you yearn to save him from becoming another statistic.
Theatregoers left the performance after delivering a rousing standing ovation with freshly wiped tears permeating their eyes, deep in weighty conversations about the plight of the social welfare system, wondering if they can do more either as parents or in the lives of the youth in their circles…young, old, wealthy, working class, a diverse racial assemblage all met under the roof of the Arena Stage and connected under the thought provoking tale.
Seed was part of this year’s DC Hip-Hop Theatre Festival and makes its world premere at the Classical Theatre of Harlem this August in NYC.