Word Becomes Flesh offers a gripping journey through the trying conditions affecting black father-son relations. The production, here for 3 performances only (it closes today) at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, is a dynamite blend of spoken word, dancing, singing, and DJ skills.
The multitalented cast uses bracing artistry to diagram the fear and wonder of impending fatherhood while attacking the parental neglect and self-destruction plaguing black communities across the United States.
Highly recommended for strong ensemble work.
Celebrated artist and educator Marc Bamuthi Joseph conceived Word Becomes Flesh several years ago as a series of interconnected monologues, songs, and dance numbers, and has adapted each successive production to the unique voices and talents of his cycling cast. Thus, the show does not follow a specific plot or tone but unfolds instead as a fluid meditation on black family and culture.
Performers Dahlak Brathwaite, Daveed Diggs, Khalil Anthony, Michael Wayne Turner III, and B. Yung offer a diverse slate of communal dance numbers and intimate monologues, all linked by DJ Dion Reiner-Guzman’s scintillating beats and sampling.
The show opens as a kaleidoscope of balletic motion and rapidly shifting lights, as cast members chase each other around the stage to simulate fathers fleeing from their sons’ outstretched arms. Soon some of the performers take up positions behind a keyboard and drum pad, buttressing the DJ’s beats and lending a rhythmic urgency to the unfolding chase scene. But just as quickly as it begins, the performers desert the stage, leaving Daveed Diggs all alone at center stage.
Diggs artfully details an indiscretion that changed everything on a sweltering summer day in New York City . He mentions familiar issues of fidelity and temptation and turns two differently hued spotlights into competing love interests through sheer conviction and charisma. Through a dizzying verbal barrage, his early swagger gives way to brutal honesty, revealing a scared young man totally unready to raise a child.
Word Becomes Flesh
Closes Sunday, March 24, 2013
Atlas Performing Arts Center
1333 H Street NE
1 hour without intermission
Later, Dahlak Brathwaite takes hip hop culture to task in an entertaining collaboration with the limber Turner. Brathwaite humorously inveighs against the misogyny and preening of the rap scene, while Turner busts out an array of smooth moves straight from the club. Both work in tandem to take the rap machine down a peg, advocating a return to the respectful lyrics and romantic archetypes of soul and Motown eras. The playful number provides a welcome complement to the earlier seriousness by utilizing humor to undermine negative stereotypes.
After several more winning sequences, the cast, led by Khalil Anthony, wrap their journey with a calming reflection on the wonder of bringing new life into the world. Framed by a striking red glow, the performers dig deep and remind the audience that the simple act of becoming a father trumps all the previous noise. It’s an important moment to bring the audience of the central father-son relationship, which occasionally gets lost in more general explorations of black culture.
Despite the wandering through-line of Word Becomes Flesh, the journey is well worth it. The words, dance, song, lights, and music create a dreamlike playground for the all-pro team of performers to ply their craft.
The roster of fiercely independent solo artists converges into a cohesive whole that is much greater than just the sum of its parts. Finally, the central premise of strengthening families and communities provides a rallying point for audience members of all stripes.
Word Becomes Flesh . Written and Directed by: Marc Bamuthi Joseph . Written and Performed by: Dahlak Brathwaite, Daveed Diggs, Dion Decibels, Khalil Anthony, Michael Turner, and B. Yung . Produced by: Atlas Theater and Theater Alliance . Reviewed by Ben Demers