Hype Man: A Break Beat Play

by Joe Siegel

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday November 7, 2018

Phoenyx Williams in "Hype Man: A Break Beat Play" that runs through November 18 in a production by the Wilbury Theatre Group.
Phoenyx Williams in "Hype Man: A Break Beat Play" that runs through November 18 in a production by the Wilbury Theatre Group.  

"Hype Man: A Break Beat Play" explores the tensions which erupt among the members of a rap music group. Wilbury Theatre Group's production features energetic performances and sharp direction by Don Mays.

Pinnacle, his "hype man" Verb, and their female deejay Peep One have been touring for years and have just landed an appearance on the "The Tonight Show."

When they learn about the police killing a young black man whose only crime was rushing to the hospital to visit his grandmother, Verb decides to take a stand against racism.

Pinnacle, who is white, cautions Verb about being vocal with his outrage. He tells Verb, who is wearing a "Justice for Jarrod" shirt, the time isn't right to be advocating for justice when the group is on the verge of stardom.

The turmoil between Verb and Pinnacle escalates and threatens to tear the group apart.

Phoenyx Williams, who appeared in "Church" last year at Wilbury, delivers a mesmerizing performance as Verb, who can relate to the plight of Jarrod in a way Pinnacle will never understand.

Jeff Hodge (Jerusalem) is also excellent as Pinnacle, Verb's longtime friend who seems incapable of understanding Verb's anguish over Jarrod's death.

Hodge and Williams are always convincing as rappers, exhibiting tremendous charisma and bravado as they dominate the oval-shaped stage.

As Peep One, Helena Tafuri is a perfect match for her co-stars. Peep One is struggling with her racial identity and finds herself caught in the middle of Verb and Pinnacle's feud.

Playwright Idris Goodwin has created well-rounded characters and provides them with very real human frailties. Verb, Pinnacle, and Peep One fall victim to the insecurities and power struggles which often break apart highly successful music groups.

Goodwin also provides a subtle commentary on the white appropriation of black music forms. For example, white rapper Eminem has sold millions of records by capitalizing on what his black predecessors have created.

Pinnacle tells Verb that "hip-hop is my therapist", an outlet for his fears and frustrations.

For Verb, their music holds greater significance. It is his way of telling the world who he is and expressing his freedom. Rap liberates him from the prison of racism.

Peep One points out the frequent misogyny in rap lyrics and notes how much she has contributed to the group's success. This is a woman who refuses to be controlled or pushed aside.

What is most remarkable about "Hype Man: A Break Beat Play" is the honest debate the characters have about race. Pinnacle and Verb have spent so many years creating music together yet realize how far apart they really are.

Their different life experiences have shaped their personalities and the shooting of Jarrod forces them to come to grips with each other.

However, this is not a 90-minute sermon about racism.

"Hype Man" features a fair share of humor, courtesy of Williams, and the music is terrific. You don't need to enjoy rap to see this very entertaining and thought-provoking show.

"Hype Man: A Break Beat Play" runs through November 18. Wilbury Theatre Group. 40 Sonoma Court. Providence. For tickets, call 401-400-7100 or visit www.thewilburygroup.org.

Joe Siegel has written for a number of other GLBT publications, including In newsweekly and Options.