Theater Review: HYPE MAN (Fountain Theatre)

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by Joan Alperin on February 26, 2019

in Theater-Los Angeles

HYPER-ACTIVISM

A promising hip-hop group formed by two childhood friends — a white writer and a black hype man — is thrown off its beat by racial tensions in the West Coast premiere of a powerful, funny and meaningful drama: Hype Man by Idris Goodwin. The Fountain Theatre has opened it’s 2019 season with the third in Goodwin’s series of “break beat plays” about hip-hop in America and the way that it has affected personal relationships, aspirations and politics. The 75-minute one-act covers issues of race, gender, privilege, responsibility and when to use artistic expression as an act of social protest, but mostly it’s about friendship.

The excellent Matthew Hancock (The Brothers Size) is Verb, a hip-hop performer who does backup rapping and singing but also intensifies the crowd’s energy with call-and-response chants — hence, a “hype-man.” Verb has been backing up front-man white rapper Pinnacle (Chad Addison, powerfully cathartic) since they were kids; Pinnacle — the M.C. — rhymes, and Verb gets the crowd going. Enter beat-maker Peep One (captivating Clarissa Thibeaux), young mixed-race woman who has joined the group. Now, just as they are on the verge of making it big, a police shooting of a black teen causes conflict in the band: When Verb wants to get political on national TV, the trio has to decide when to use artistic expression as an act of social protest.

Playwright Goodwin grew up absorbing the hip-hop culture in Detroit and became serious about it as a young rapper in Chicago. He has 14 plays under his belt, and has produced five rap albums — so this is a subject he knows only too well, and there are some infectious musical numbers, so even if you’re not a fan of this genre of music, don’t miss this very important production, superbly directed by Deena Selenow.

photos by Ed Krieger

Hype Man
Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave.
Fri, Sat & Mon at 8; Sat & Sun at 2
ends to April 14, 2019
for tickets, call 323.663.1525 or visit Fountain Theatre

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