Last Friday night, the N.C. Central University Department of Theatre and Dance’s production of The Mis-education of Hip Hop, a devised work by Daja, Destini, Sheldon, Jonathan, and Asabi, had us anticipating what promised to be a fun-filled evening of dance, song, and the history of hip hop. Or should we say, “[T]he hip, hop, the hippy to the hippy the hip hip the hoppy you don’t stop rockin.” For the uninitiated, that’s a seminal lyric from Grandmaster Flash, whose Rapper’s Delight broke rap music into the mainstream.
However, if we thought that this was going to be a light-hearted evening of dance and song, we were mistaken. The drama that unfolds onstage is a tapestry of stories about several characters who are all part of a rap group, Street Havoc.
Daja Middleton, Jonathan Able, Aquantia “Tia” Fogle, and Destini Mewborn show us characters, such as an unwed mother, the son of a mother struggling with addiction, a prostitute struggling with AIDS, amongst others. As these characters struggle through life, music becomes the one thing that soothes their souls. However, they are focused on the negative until a teacher (played by Miranda Davis) sparks their minds; and the Gods of music come to teach them about the true roots and meaning of hip hop. Ultimately, the group learns that music and the spoken word should not be a graphic denigration of women, but a heartfelt expression of one’s personal struggle and experiences.
The whole audience goes through the learning process with these characters. We hear snippets of Billy Holliday, we learn about the contributions of important African-American luminaries such as Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou and, yes, Grandmaster Flash. The production is also about the African-American struggle against racism, so on a big screen, scenes from the 1960s civil rights movement appear; and as we move into present day, sadly, a white police offer beats two innocent black men, and another is shot. This is quite a somber moment in the show; but in truth, if hip hop is an offshoot of life experience, then the sad realities of today will continue to affect music and all of our lives.
The stage is simple. There are no sets. Small buckets are used as stairs, as seats, and as drums. This keeps us focused on the stories. The lighting by Lindsey Young smoothly guides the audience between the various scenes. Costume designer Jocelyn Jones-Richardson did a great job showing us the street clothes from America and the elegant fabrics and styles of Africa. The choices of director Dr. Asabi (Stephanie M. Howard) nicely use the blank stage as a canvas to carry us through the narrative.
From the Department of Picky-Picky: It was very difficult to hear the dialog this past Friday night, and we kept wishing that the actors had microphones. Also from this department: While the story is an important one to tell, clocking in at two full hours, even with a 10-minute intermission, it is quite a long production.
With a gifted cast and crew, however, the audience left the theater jubilant; and we left the theater with a greater appreciation of the true power of the spoken word and of hip hop.
The N.C. Central University Department of Theatre and Dance presents THE MIS-EDUCATION OF HIP HOP, a devised work by Daja, Destini, Sheldon, Jonathan, and Asabi at 3 p.m. April 17, 8 p.m. April 22 and 23, and 3 p.m. April 24 in in University Theatre in the Farrison-Newton Communications Building, 1707 Fayetteville St., Durham, NC 27707, on the NCCU campus.
TICKETS: Admission is FREE.
INFORMATION: 919-530-6242. SHOW/SEASON: http://www.nccu.edu/formsdocs/proxy.cfm?file_id=3266.
VENUE/DIRECTIONS (Building #28): http://www.nccu.edu/formsdocs/proxy.cfm?file_id=393.
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.