As a celebration of youthful exuberance and a medium for entertaining young people, P.Nokio is first-rate. Imagination Stage already has a well-deserved reputation for supporting new playwrights and fostering theatrical experiments that stretch the boundaries of the tried and true. Author/director Psalmayene 24, “Psalm”, is a home grown D.C. area artist. In backing Psalm’s effort to meld together the worlds of Hip-Hop and theatre, Imagination Stage has done it again.
Storywise, P.Nokio is based on Carlo Collodi’s classic children’s story, The Adventures of Pinocchio, best known to modern audiences via the Disney movie. In this Hip-Hop makeover, P.Nokio is a computer generated figure brought to life by a video game designer, G. Petto. The Graffiti Fairy’s magic comes to life via spray paint, and the arch villains, Fox and Cat, take on a variety of clever and often very funny guises as they attempt to lure P.Nokio down a wayward path that will end in his giving them his “street credits.”
All of this is choreographed in fine Hip-Hop style by Paige Hernandez. The result is an exuberant display of B-boying and MC-ing. The choreography and the dancing skill of the cast are clearly the highlights of this production.
In addition to writing and directing, Psalm also takes the lead role of P.Nokio. For some this may come across as egotistical bravado. In this case, Psalm happens to be a very fine performer and movement artist and pretty much perfect for the role. Backing him up and providing some highlights of their own in a variety of roles are the choreographer Paige Hernandez, James. J. Johnson, Katy Carkuff and Jacob Yeh.
Paige Hernandez is not just a fine choreographer and dancer, she has a real flair for comic timing and shows it off well in her principle role as the Graffitti Fairy. Johnson has the somewhat thankless task of portraying G. Petto, the forlorn father of the computer generated figure come to life. His role is focused more on carrying the story forward and, as such, he has fewer opportunities to strut his stuff.
My favorites in the show, however, are Yeh and Carkuff. In addition to Cat, Carkuff does a bang up job as the “Fork in the Road,” one of Psalm’s more inventive creations in bringing this story to life. Yeh is wonderfully villainous as the Machine Master and a thoroughly convincing fool in the land of fools. But it is in their principle roles as Fox and Cat that these two really shine. Combining razor sharp timing with both their movement and their byplay, they elicited delightful giggles and some outright guffaws with their comic shenanigans.
Here is what P. Nokio creator Psalmayene 24 has to say about why Hip-Hop is important: “To me, one of the most amazing things about Hip-Hop is that it is an entire culture that was created by kids with little to no formal training in the arts. They just did what came naturally to them and what gave them joy. In that way, Hip-Hop is an incredible testament to the creative potential of all young people.”
Closes Oct 18. 2012
4908 Auburn Avenue
Bethesda , MD
1 hour, 5 minutes with no intermission
Tickets: $12 – $25
Fridays thru Sundays
In joining the two worlds of Hip-Hop and theatre, Hip-Hop came out the very clear winner here. Psalmayene was attracted to the story because: “Redemption is the universal, timeless, and ageless human impulse that runs through the story.” As a theatrical vehicle for carrying the message of redemption, P.Nokio falls well short. The story is a thin bit of thread upon which Psalm and company have hung bright, imaginative and infectious movement and music. As theatre, the best thing you can say about it is that it is okay, but certainly not up to the same level of excellence displayed in the Hip-Hop elements.
According to background material provided, Afrika Bambaata is credited as being the God-Father of Hip-Hop dating back to 1970. Some of the elements of Hip-Hop (most notably graffiti) have taken on a decidedly negative connotation over the years. Psalmayene 24 is attempting to bring back the original intent of Bambaata: “When we made Hip-Hop, we made it hoping it would be about peace, love, unity and having fun so that people could get away from the negativity that was plaguing our streets. Even though this negativity still happens here and there, as the culture progresses, we play a big role in conflict resolution and enforcing positivity.”
P. Nokio is the second piece of a trilogy Psalm has written and is continuing to write about the past, present and future of Hip-Hop using the theatre as his medium. He believes that storytelling is the link that bonds Hip-Hop and the theatre. I think he should be roundly supported and encouraged.
His voice is an important one not just for children’s entertainment but for all of us “elders” who could stand to learn a thing or two from the generation that has given birth to this amazing cultural phenomenon.
Recommended for ages 5 thru 12. And everyone else.
P.Nokio: A Hip-Hop Musical, Written and Directed by Psalmayene 24, Music by Nick Hernandez, Choreography by Paige Hernandez, featuring Psalmayene 24 as P. Nokio, Paige Hernandez as Graffiti Fairy, James Johnson as G. Petto. Jacob Yeh as Fox Madoff, and Katy Carkull as Cat Burgler. Sound designer/composer, Nick Hernandez, Set Designer: Ethan Sinnott, Costume Designer: Kendra Rai, and Lighting Designer: Andrew Griffin. Produced by Imagination Stage. Reviewed by Larry Bangs