ACT's fascinating collage on race and identity

The show is a mixtape for stage, inspired by hip-hop culture
Crosscut archive image.

At ACT: a fusion of movement and theater

The show is a mixtape for stage, inspired by hip-hop culture

Now that there'ꀙs a gentleman with African roots in the White House, all our difficult history of race relations is washed away. We live together in perfect harmony, side by side. Middle-aged white people cross the street to say hello to young black strangers. Every middle-income African-American with a college degree has worked through his uncomfortable identity issues. Plumbers from Ballard dress like brothas while folks from the hood have a new fondness for bowties.

Just in case this is not the case — if Obama'ꀙs election has not once and for all put paid to interethnic tensions — you might want to check out this last weekend of the break/s: a mixtape for stage at ACT, before it closes on July 12.

It'ꀙs a collage piece made of fragments of autobiography and musings on race and identity, blended into an audio/video hip-hop stagescape. The author and monologuist, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, has made an interesting career of solo and group stage work, poetry slams, teaching and writing about hip-hop culture. In this show he is ably backed by DJ Excess and Soulati on turntables and percussion, as well as a wealth of large-screen video footage projected behind him.

There'ꀙs an awkward moment at the beginning. A bunch of well-dressed, mostly white people sit in comfy theater seats while the scratching starts: will we be more embarrassed for the performers or for the audience? Will people walk out? In fact there'ꀙs enough discursive monologue to keep us comfortably in our seats, and enough music to get us twitching.

Joseph'ꀙs essential challenge is to resolve the tension between rapping and yakking. In carving out his career as a vigorous if slightly earnest expounder of hip-hop, he'ꀙs trying to chronicle and celebrate a culture that resists the cerebral.

Unlike other purveyors of autobiographical monologue like Spalding Gray, Joseph gives us a compilation of fragments — an album — rather than a continuous narrative. The bits are linked with a recurring reference to falling and an excellent center-stage lighting effect, and they string together nicely. Video, music, sound effects — there'ꀙs a lot going on here, in contrast to Gray'ꀙs works where we were presented with a man, a glass of water and a table.

the break/s has been criticized for aimlessness and for communicating too little of hip-hop'ꀙs history. Certainly Joseph can do much more to create a tight work with carefully soldered pieces. But he boldly and frankly confronts challenging questions of identity and authenticity that resonate for all of us.


Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


About the Authors & Contributors