Monday, February 13, 2012
So I went to see Ash Rizin on Saturday night, a Hip Hop Opera, or perhaps "hip hopera" put on by the ATP at the Martha Cohen Theatre. Frankly, the show was hit and miss. Some things were very good: the writing is strong, the use of technology to create graffiti onstage was clever and interesting, and the music mix was fantastic. The story's a hiphop tale from the generic Canadian suburbs and while the Eastside vs The Park gang thing gets a bit over the top, it never loses sight of its setting or audience. For that reason, the problems with authenticity and talent really stand out. The show's badass couple, Dosha and Gat (played by Allison Lynch and Kyle Jespersen) are great: over the top, talented - Lynch is a hell of a singer and Jespersen's rapping never takes him out of character - and entirely believable but the star characters Ash, Clean and Dee (played by Aaron Hursh, Ksenia Thurgood, and Luc Roderique) don't come off so well. Hursh and Roderique do a reasonable job of rapping and their acting...well, it's not great but not terrible. I never really felt these characters come to life but they weren't actively bad either. But, in a city like Calgary where there is so much good hip hop and rap talent, I cannot understand why ATP would use actors to rap and not the other way around. The music drives this show and the performers are clearly not musicians. Hip hop is decades old and most of the audience probably knows what the real thing looks like. The director and casting director really shouldn't have tried to fake it with actors and amateurs: the freestyle scene between Ash and Clean was so obviously not freestyle that I could only squirm and wish some of the people around town who can actually do that stuff were there doing it. To top it off, Thurgood's character Clean was an awful casting choice. Her singing was weak and was more jazz than hiphop, her rapping sucked more than the role allowed, she danced like a weird white girl who doesn't actually listen to this music, and she was so obviously too old to play a chickeh working at the mall while trying to make good that her character appeared ridiculous. By the end of the show, the only character who actually came off as authentic was Mike Wasko's evil aryan bastard Angel. Singing a metal song about how much he hates hip hop, he makes the clear statement to the audience that everyone's posing but him. Given that this is a hip hopera, the fact that only the hard rock character actually lives up to his place in life seems to undermine the whole point of the show. These problems with authenticity and performance also get troubled in spots by lazy stage management: the characters, in some of the most emotionally loaded scenes, have to wander on and off with no change in sound or lighting, thus losing any punch their performances might have given. The show has potential and I won't tell people not to go...but to ATP and friends all I can say is next time, use the real deal and quit acting so fucking much. Theatre only gets good when people forget that it's theatre.