In a theoretical theatrical smackdown, the average Capital Fringe Festival actor would likely lose to the average Hip-Hop Theater Festival performer — especially if the contest involved poetry, break dancing or push-ups.
“Word Becomes Flesh” features all three. And if you’ve seen a few too many whiny, wimpy one-man shows lately, here’s your hair-of-the-dog cure. Originally a 2003 solo performance for Bay Area-based choreographer Marc Bamuthi Joseph, this weighty reworking of Joseph’s knocked-up story is now performed by a powerful quintet of actor-dancers.
It’s not a comedy, though many in Friday’s Dance Place audience laughed at uneasy lines like: “[Blacks] are never on time. So when she told me she was late, I wasn’t surprised.” When the show turns serious, though, it’s stark. And what makes it so good is that the transitions between poetic quips and social commentary flow so smoothly.
The performers take turns narrating the excruciating nine months that follow Joseph cheating on his girlfriend. He knows the resulting child will be not just a baby, but a statistic: another black child with an absentee dad. Often while one guy talks, another performs a lyrical hip-hop solo in the spotlight beside him. There’s a monologue about having a girl and a krump-inspired number about childbirth classes. The ensemble pieces are more serious; in one, synchronized variations on the push-up follow a condemnation of the prison system.
Many choreographers attempt to tackle social issues; few interweave their own stories in a way that makes sense. “Word Becomes Flesh” isn’t a groundbreaking dance work, but as a performance piece, it makes for a searing, satisfying evening.