Lights come up on a cool garage-turned-music-studio, where a young woman leans into her sound system. She enthusiastically taps buttons on her laptop, uses her turntable, and dances to her improvised beat. This percussive prologue promises a story infused with hip-hop and uses the music genre as a tool to explore American social issues.
The west coast premiere of Idris Goodwin’s “Hype Man” at the Fountain Theatre investigates whether people have the responsibility artistic to address social injustice in their artistic expression. With thoughtful direction by Deena Selenow, the “breakbeat” play, as the playwright coins it, weaves hip-hop as both a plot and storytelling device to create an endearing and high-energy piece of art with poignant relevancy.
A hip-hop trio on the brink of fame, comprised of frontman Pinnacle (Chad Addison), hype man (Matthew Hancock), and beat maker (Clarissa Thibeaux), grapples with the news of a police shooting of a black teen. This forces them to confront social inequity of race and gender in both America and consequently within their own group. As tension builds, the group must decide if and when art should be used as a tool for protest.
As Pinnacle, Addison excels in embodying a combination of subconscious privilege with his rough exterior. The character scoots dangerously close to the edge of unlikability, but Addison ultimately pulls him out of the fire by allowing a soft vulnerability peep through his tough demeanor.
Hype man Verb is portrayed by Hancock magnificently with a keen eye for detail. The audience can see Verb’s thought process in his eyes and expressions. He perfectly sprinkles in upbeat and sprightly energy which make his moments of intensity that much more potent.
Thibeaux’s Peep One is piercing and unapologetic. Her passion for her music radiates through her movement, and the spontaneity in her voice perfectly mimics the improvisation of beat production. Thibeaux oozes with quirky charm just by sipping her coffee, snapping her fingers by the mic, or by comically cradling a small vinyl figurine of the Notorious B.I.G.
Together, the trio of actors works in harmony, collaborating and feeding off of each other’s energy. Their powerful dynamic transforms the play into more than a story about activism, but of human experience.
Scenic Designer James Maloof creates an eclectic music studio, complete with old floral wallpaper and cement walls scattered with stickers. The impressive set is so comforting and nostalgic that it practically feels immersive. Beat Maker Romero Mosley’s masterful beats act as the heartbeat of the play; they are fun, catchy, and are not only complementary but integral to the story.
"Hype Man," with its cool music and talented trio of actors, challenges and inspires the audience. It is a fun and important play worth seeing.
"Hype Man" runs through April 14 at The Fountain Theatre. Tickets start at $25 and more information can be found here.
You can contact Contributing Writer Shelby Corley here.