Actor Meshaun Labrone is an experienced actor who has played a number of Shakespeare’s most famous characters, including the title role in Richard III. It shows throughout in his one man show—Right to Remain… The Life and Mind of Tupac Shakur.
In 1996, when a friend came to tell him that rapper Tupac Shakur had been murdered, Labrone was listening to music on his headphones. He removed them just long enough to say “so?” before returning to his music. As Labrone grew as an artist, he realized he had dismissed a great voice; a man of revolutionary zeal, much like him.
But was he a person worthy of Shakespearean tragedy? See the play and decide. Shakur, with no doubt, lived a life worthy of dramatic portrayal. Whether Labrone is believable as the star is an open question; I’m not sure what to tell yo, but he gives a powerful performance.
In the opening and closing scenes, Tupac sits sulking in prison, facing charges for a rape he likely didn’t commit, but the rage that appears throughout this drama is over still more ponderous matters. In one nicely paced scene after another, Labrone portrays a series of essential episodes from Shakur’s life, beginning with his time as a student of drama and ballet at the Baltimore School for the Arts. In the midst of some explosive scene, Labrone brings the house to laughter showing Tupac practicing his ballet moves while keeping his leotard from giving him a wedgie.
The rape scene is another matter. Portrayed from both sides with raw emotion and forcefulness, some audience members recoiled. I will not draw you a picture.
Most of the play’s other scenes focus on Shakur’s thoughts and impression of the world around him. Growing up on the streets of Harlem, Shakur knew ghetto life better than most. Why we remember him is because he was gifted with the ability to put what he knew into words. What so many of his listeners interpreted as a glorification of the “Thug Life” was really nothing more than an artist expressing the things that surrounded him growing up.
In dramatic monologues worthy of this Shakespearean actor, the character expresses his disdain for the thug life, and hatred for the social and racial forces that make it essential to ghetto life. Shakur, we learn, sought to be more than a successful rapper and actor; he hoped to use his voice to lead the people of the ghetto to action. He was particularly troubled by the enmity between the black and Hispanic communities that has gotten far worse since his passing. These divisions would only serve those who wanted to keep them poor and voiceless.
But for Shakur, the thug life was too much a part of his being to overcome. Already the victim of one gang shooting, another would end his life at an age when many of us are just to learn how to live. This is ultimately the tragedy that Labrone would find in Tupac Shakur’s life.
Right to Remain… The Life and Mind of Tupac Shakur has 6 performances, ending July 29, 2012, at The Bedroom at Fort Fringe, 610 L St NW, Washington, DC
Steve rates this 3 out of a possible 5.