Friday, January 08, 2010

Under the Radar Festival: The Word Begins

There is a fine moment in The Word Begins in which Steven Connell helps Sekou (tha misfit) Andrews realize the insidious evil of the Hallmark store. "Words are radioactive," he says, and we shouldn't be paying $2.99 to help us tell someone that we love them in "some other dude's words." From that, we can only extrapolate--and that is what these two do in this loose and rambling show--that the same applies to religion and politics. That it is dangerous to cede our voices to another person, or to glom onto the loudest voice of someone who just happens to look the same as us. However, it feels as if much of Andrews and Connell's show has done just that: much of its 75 minutes are given over to yelling, with the occasional sample of Martin Luther King or John Kennedy mixed in for gravitas. It doesn't ask us to think for ourselves; instead, it serves us self-congratulatory nuggets as it preaches obvious things like "The only way to end war is to end war" and suggests that we all just "fuck ourselves beige."

For a show that stresses the importance of the word (and of its associated actions "made flesh"), The Word Begins ends up not only being too general with them, but downright lazy. (This is not to say that the actors are lazy, although an energetic minstrel show is still just a minstrel show.) Yes, there are white people who act black, and there are well-spoken black men who are castigated for acting white, and there are redneck preachers and bitch-hatin' rappers and nut-bustin' playas, but it's not enough to simply show us these stereotypes. That's straw-man theater, in which because a black man holds a gun to a white man's head not out of hatred but out of a need to provide for his family, this world is obviously fucked up.

No, what's fucked up is a spoken-word play that is all talk. Without characters to develop, or plot to guide things, even the zingers lose their effect: "Babies are born dead from wombs like coffins" or "If people who kill in the name of God go to heaven, then who goes to hell? Gandhi?" Robert Egan's direction tries to generate some sense of consistency between segments, but it's not enough and actually just makes the show seem stagier. (Given the lack of a set, it's actually a poor choice.) Perhaps the greatest gripe with The Word Begins is that it is content to simply be a beginning.

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