The third in playwright Idris Goodwin’s “break beat” series about hip hop in America, HYPE MAN delivers a nuanced study of pretty much everything at the forefront of today’s news, including social injustice, racial identity, and gender inequality. As if that wasn’t enough, Goodwin adds some dollops at career, ambition, and what friendship really means.
Hype man Verb (Matthew Hancock) backs up front man rapper Pinnacle (Chad Addison), with beat maker Peep One (Clarissa Thibeaux) giving them both the rhythmic punctuation they need. The group is getting ready to soar, with an imminent tour marking their coming success. Verb and Pinnacle have been best buddies since they were kids; each can finish the other’s sentences. It’s the perfect combination of friends with talent and ambition.
And then the unexpected happens. As they rehearse for their biggest gig yet on national TV, a black teen is shot by the police. The group quickly begins to unravel as each disagrees with the other about how to handle the incendiary situation. Verb wants to actively fan the flames of anger in the black community, while his white “brother” counsels caution. After all, getting in the thick of it might well alienate the folks they’re trying to woo, the backers of their music and maybe even some of their potential audience. Peep One is torn between her concern about her racial heritage and also Verb, whom she kind of likes – but also wants to be a success in the rap world. It is an untenable situation, and Verb strikes out on his own, megaphone in hand and heart in the right place. What about the trio? You’ll have to see the play to find out.
Talented director Deena Selenow does a superb job of turning three legitimate actors into rap stars. Of course, she also has a talented trio working to reach their mutual goal. If HYPE MAN weren’t a play – and the three were in fact introduced at a concert – it would be hard to separate actor from rapper. Hancock’s moves are fluid as he bonelessly gyrates across the stage. Addison’s rap is clear as a bell – and just right for today’s audiences. Thibeaux’s “take control” manner with the necessary mechanics is perfection.
James Maloof’s scenic design fits the theme, with Michael Mullen’s costumes ringing just the right bell. Malik Allen’s sound and Chu Hsuan Chang’s lighting are integral to the proceedings. And let’s not forget Romero Mosley’s beat and Scott Tuomey’s technical know-how. HYPE MAN is clearly a group effort – and all the parts came together just right.
HYPE MAN runs through April 14, 2019, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Mondays, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Avenue, Los Angeles, CA. Tickets range from $25 to $45. Pay-what-you-want seating is available every Monday night. For information and reservations, call 323-663-1525 or go online.