It’s 1988 in a Midwest suburb known as The Hill. Three teenagers, Hank (Eric Lockley), Julian (Kim Fischer), and Luann (Cyndii Johnson), live and breathe hip-hop. The only problem is no one else seems to understand their art. As the three forge ahead melding poetry with music, loyalties are tested and parents disapprove. But nothing can overcome a true friendship or stop the flow of inspiration. How We Got On, by playwright Idris Goodwin, tells this tale in an 80 minute story that never dips in energy or creative flow. Goodwin had a good year in 2012 — this work premiered at the prestigious Humana Festival of New American Plays, while his play Blackademics was named the best of 2012 by the Chicago Tribune.Under the direction of Jaime Castaneda, this rap infused chronicle takes us through the musings and stories of three artists who strive to find their dream, and their self-actualization of passion.
1988 is when Yo! MTV Raps debuts. The program, which was the first hip hop music show on the MTV network, was a lively mix of rap videos, interviews with rap stars, and live performances. No doubt, the three teenagers presented in this piece have been influenced by this mainstream onslaught of inspiration. In the world of Debbie Gibson and Rick Astley, these teens find their calling by dropping beats and verse to express their lives, as opposed to overproduced dance music.
The set is a high school basketball court, which includes a stage used for assemblies no doubt, but this court is ruled by the master DJ and storyteller of the evening, Selector. The fierce actress Portia inhabits Selector with mad DJ skills, and offers a variety of interpretation of all the other characters that appear in the story. She deftly tells the tale of these teenagers, and provides the presence of their fathers, along with other figures that play prominently in the story. Portia is engaging, theatrical, and a beautiful presence and sets her own tempo and beat for the entire evening, which is pitch perfect. The play flies, as she, and the three other actors, are a concert of kinetic fluidity.
We first find Hank, a young black youth, that is inspired to create verse, but set it to a beat that will reach the suburbs with his sick rhythm. Along the way, he meets Julian, a frustrated and cocky artist himself, who eventually faces off with Hank in a rap battle, and realizes that Hank should be the writer, and he the performer. You see, you learn things in this show as well. We learn about Ghostwriters, and some of the biggest rappers are not really using their own words. They work together, but as many artists do, they find conflict with egos and the sense of who is in control. Enter Luann, a girl that can rap on the spot, using original material pulled from thin air and the environmental cues that surround her. Hank aligns easily, because he is about the music, but Julian finds the road more difficult, being that Luann is brilliant and god forbid, a woman with power and confidence. We then learn about the process of developing and bringing to life a rap track, with its melody and beats, and hooks. Every time we watch the characters learn and move on to the next level, that journey IS “How We Got On.” How we got on to the next level. How we got on through our family telling us no. How we got on by identifying our strengths, faults and how to reconcile them. How we got on battling our own demons and jealousy.
Eric Lockley as Hank is terrific. He has such grand appeal and honesty, that I couldn’t help but be entertained and found myself rooting for him to keep plugging away at his dream. His character provides a great epicenter of spirit during the evening. Kim Fischer creates appropriate cockiness and engaging coolness as we meet him. Fischer does a great job. He lets the layers of insecurity present themselves slowly, and displays that vulnerability that haunts many performers with subtle cracks in the armor. His attractive athletic presence is a good counter to the scrappy underdog. Cyndii Johnson fires on all cylinders as she traverses the male dominated court. Johnson has a great spirit and provides vast entertainment as she busts out some mad verse, and interacts and dominates her male compatriots with confidence and honesty.
(Yes, I did take a selfie, but don’t worry, I didn’t crash the stage. They actually invite you up afterwards to mingle. You can even order a cocktail if you like. From left to right, Eric Lockley, Portia, Cyndii Johnson and Kim Fischer.These folks are as nice, as they are talented. And that smudge on the far left is the lovely woman who volunteered to take our picture. It was a journey, ha)
Scenic Designer Lauren Helpern created a very cool space. Sound Designer Mikhail Fiksel did an outstanding job. The shift from house music to the boom box was incredibly well designed and executed. Costume Designer Jessica Ford brought some nice period realness to the court. Musical Director Shammy Dee nailed the proceedings with beautiful choices. Lighting Designer Brian Sidney Bembridge earned his three names. Stage Managers John Godbout and Lisa J. Snodgrass called a great show, and executed the sound cues with incredible professionalism. You both really added to the evening by surrounding those actors with expert timing of cues.
The actors and stage managers in this production are members of Actor’s Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States.
The director is a member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, a national theatrical labor union.
The scenic, costume, lighting and sound designers in LORT Theatres are represented by United Scenic Artists, Local USA-829 of the IATSE.
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Please refer to online ticketing website HERE.
$15-$49 Reserved Seating
Cleveland Playhouse at Playhouse Square
Allen Theater Complex
1407 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44115