The Theater Alliance’s Version 2 of WORD BECOMES FLESH is a muscular and masculine expression of Sweat & Testosterone to the Fifth Power! This ‘Remount’ of the 2003 original is a local follow-up to Theater Alliance’s March 2016 presentation as a male companion and counterpart in repertory with ‘for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf’.
Tightening up on the original production with a more compact stage setting WBF has evolved to what is fast becoming a HIP HOP classic, which was written and conceived by west coast spoken-word poet, dancer, actor and playwright Marc Bamuthi Joseph, who was born in 1975 on the eve of the emergence of HIP HOP’s as a legitimate mainstream genre.
Conceived by Bamuthi Joseph as a series of letters from an unwed father to his unborn son, the play later added a DJ and the choreographed movement of five unique but powerfully unified voices.
Joseph used his credentials as a three-time Grand Slam winner in the National Poetry Slam as early as 1999, and his work was featured in episodes of Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry on HBO in 2004 and 2005 well after his first production of WBF premiered in November of 2003 in Oakland, CA.
Add to his performance creds his academic status as a resident professor at Stanford’s drama department teaching spoken word, and you understand that Word Becomes Flesh elevates HIP HOP and the spoken word genre to a new creative level with this all out masculine statement of contemporary art.
Directed by local talent Psalmayene24 who is an Artist-In-Residence at Bowie State and Master Teaching Artist at Arena Stage, the performance breaks out with a pulsating heap of five intertwined black bodies beating as ONE on the floor of the smoky stage of the Anacostia Playhouse and then takes the audience on a roller coaster ride of music, and rhythmic movement that literally takes your breath away.
Justin Weaks sets the tone and tempo from Jump Street as he asks the provocative question, “Can you feel me?, because I don’t do feelings well”.
The well balanced cast of Louis Davis, Chris Lane, Clayton Pelham, Gary Perkins III and veteran Theater Alliance performer Justin Weaks take turns in leading a NON-STOP fast break performance of five fluid players who weave HIP HOP rhymes, HBCU step show moves, and baseline-to-baseline manic action like a well oil team of point guards and power forwards.
Scenic director Ethan Sinnott creates a dark and foreboding terraced urban landscape and the cast sets the tempo with a frantic “Early to Rise, Early to Run” piece that underscores the violent environment that gives the five protagonists nowhere to hide and no one else to protect their backs but each other.
Their collective range of the cast from the ‘Sensitive Guy’ to the hard core ‘Player’ does not have a weak link. And it comes full circle at the performance’s end as an elder’s vision of a future Man Child becomes reality as the leader of the pack becomes a father and ‘Word Becomes Flesh’.
And brilliant director Psalmayene 24 uses every square inch of the Anacostia Playhouse’s intimate black box stage and teams with choreographer Tony Thomas to deliver dynamic movement to complement the prophetic words of playwright Marc Barmuthi Joseph’s defining statement on the pain and pleasure of Black male existence in contemporary times.
Psalm also steals a page from Melvin Van Peebles ‘Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song’ as Clayton Pelham seamlessly shifts the theme to the ‘Scent of potential sex’ and shares the pain and pleasure of the ruthless pursuit of Punani that drives young men’s lives of sexual conquest without consequences.
Then Chris Lane and Louis Davis do a deep dive into the Legacy of HIP HOP and its hard, fast and mean spirited musical messages as they Pop and Lock their way across the stage until Gary Perkins reminds everyone of how black men ‘Gave up on Good Music’ as they transform the stage like ‘FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE’ and glide through MOTOWN moves that remind the audience of the romantic songs of the 1970s, 80s and 90s that the baby makers used to get next to their love interests!
But when all was said and done, the reality of fatherhood brings the story full circle as a Grandfather’s premonition results in the birth of a young black man child as WORD BECOMES FLESH! The Theater Alliance will host a series of Art, Dialogue & Action sessions following each future performances during the WBF’s month-long run with a series of new works , conversations, and community workshop to explore the diversity of the African Diaspora.
This one hour high energy cutting edge HIP HOP performance is not to be missed and is running as a companion to the Word Becomes Action Festival, a series of new plays which runs September 11 through October 9 at the Anacostia Playhouse. The festival’s goal is to bring local artists, researchers and non-profits together in conversational community workshops to encourage tangible action and positive change as it explores the diversity of the African Diaspora. Visit www.theateralliance.com for the complete performance schedule.