Bash’d A Gay Rap Opera at Celebration Theatre

An all-rap opera would seem a bit of an odd choice for musical theatre – even a gay one. But when you consider that any number of rap incarnations date back a few centuries and that it draws closer to its political roots, then it shouldn’t come as a surprise that theatre and rapping would eventually cross paths to tell this story.

Although BASH’d isn’t a new concept, it is an ideal choice for this call to arms to our gay community to stand up and take action. The action, of course, is that of gay marriage – no less a hot button issue right now, both in the U.S. and in Canada, where this piece originated.

Written by Chris Craddock and Nathan Cuckrow, the piece is loosely based on the escalation of hate crimes in Alberta, Canada during the gay marriage debate of 2005. You could say that it borrows from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with a Romeo-on-Romeo twist.

This is a wonderful and joyous production from Celebration theatre, although it is not for those who still think theatre is a passive sporting event, and it is definitely not for those who proclaim theater’s demise whenever a younger generation finds a new voice and a new way to tell familiar stories.

Even before the show begins, DJ Jedi spins his beats to an enthusiastic audience. By the time the show starts, the crowd is in a festive mood. Feminem (Sean Bradford) and T-Bag (Chris Ferro) take the stage, Greek chorus-style, to introduce us to Jack and Dillon (played by the same actors respectively.) These characters are, indeed star cross’d lovers as they meet at a club, fall in love, eventually get married, and then face the realities of hate crimes.

Along the way, the play offers up plenty of laughs, in particular, the extremely funny bit that takes place at the clubs where T-Bag and Femimen nail (no pun intended) every gay stereotype they run into. Twink to hairy bear, no stereotype is left unscathed. Minimal props Michael O’Hara) and costumes (Naila Aladdin Sanders) is all that is needed to adorn this world.

BASH’d is well executed from start to finish. The rap is in your face and loud (as it should be) as it takes us on a humorous journey, but with some serious turns in just the right direction. Neither pandering or playing for melodrama, Bradford and Ferro take us on an honest emotional journey. The music (by Aaron Macri) is evocative of one such white rapper with those tight raps and Ferro is eerily reminiscent of Eminem.

Politically, this rap opera is just as aggressive in message as are those prominent rappers from whom they borrow. As African-America rappers have reclaimed the N-word for themselves, so too have we been commanded to take “faggot” and make it our own. It’s an extreme objective to be sure, but not one so far-fetched considering the extent to which our own civil rights have been violated.

Director/choreographer Ameenah Kaplan knows his way around the Celebration stage and employs Evan Bartoletti’s set, consisting of boxes that double as an urban landscape, to firmly plant us into this world of gay love and hetero hate. Bradford and Ferro switch seamlessly into multiple characters with little effort and inventive choreography. It goes to show that having a young and energetic cast need not be peppered with gratuitous nudity to draw in a West Hollywood crowd… At least, not anymore.

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On a bittersweet note this is Matthew A. Shepperd’s last show before stepping down as Artistic Director of Celebration. His challenge — distancing his company from the success of Naked Boys Singing!, which made Celebration West Hollywood’s go to theatre for nudie-boy plays — ends on a high note.

He set out to take this theatre in a new direction. This gutsy production is a fine example of his taking the risk of failure by challenging a proven formula, and triumphing.

Performances through July 23 at Celebration Theater, 7051 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood. For tickets, go to http://www.celebrationtheatre.com/onstage.html.

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