Dancing and Spitting Rhymes to Find Your Voice
By Irene Hernandez
Before entering The Sam Theater, to see the play Synching Ink at The Flea Theater, I, along with the other audience members, had to pay the bouncer (Elisha Lawson) with participation – responding to his calls to clap, stomp and complete his chants with enthusiasm. Once the bouncer was greased, he allowed us inside with a warning: we are about to enter a party. Once I entered the theater, I realized the guy wasn’t kidding: the stage in the round was a club lit dance floor, vibrating from the remixed 90s hip hop/R&B hits expertly spinned by DJ Reborn. As I sat down, I felt like the lame chick sitting out from dancing in a club. If I wasn’t writing notes for this review, I would have been out on that stage, dancing shamelessly.
This world of visceral rhythm was created by director (and Artistic Director of The Flea Theater) Niegel Smith to illuminate the mouthwatering hip hop poetry of Nsangou Njikam’s Synching Ink.
The play opens with old school hip hop dancing from the street clad ensemble of impressive nimble actor/dancers, each representing a color and an earthly element. These talented and versatile artists dance at several important moments in the play to help tell the story of Gordon (Njikam), an insecure young man we first meet in high school, where he first aspires to be a hip hop wordsmith, as good as his classmates and to win the affection of class siren Mona Lisa (McKenzie Frye). As Gordon breaks the 4th wall to tell his story (based on Njikam himself) and confide in the audience, Njikam deftly suggests each stage of his hip hop creative journey as he ages, subtly using his physicality, vast vocal range, wardrobe, and spacial distance from everyone else on stage. Not only is Njikam a strong, original playwright, he is a genuinely talented actor as well.
In Gordon’s world, he is helped by various classmates and teachers along the way, as well as his father, to help him find his artistic voice. The ensemble (Lawson, Frye, Adesola Osakalumi, Kara Young, Nuri Hazzard) is absolutely adept with spoken word dexterity, wonderfully surprising versatility in the various characters they played, fantastic range in their dancing, fluent in every language of rap and worked phenomenally off of one another. Though the entire cast is fantastic in their artistry in their own right, the standout is Adesola Osakalumi, who played an English teacher with elegant physicality, a hilariously dubbed martial artist expert, Gordon’s aging father, a black power college professor, the MC of the final hip hop battle and a hip hop dancer. Having seen him only have moments and a costume piece to switch characters is even more impressive.
Smith’s direction is seamless, from spoken word scenes to dance scenes, while finding the arc of Gordon’s journey to search deep inside himself to find his voice, and doing so with humor, dance and original devices, such as rewinding a brief scene, using sound effects and the talents of his actors. A special mention to the lighting designer, Kevin Rigdon, for finding interesting variety and original choices in telling this story, as well as the choreographer, Gabriel “Kwikstep” Dionisio, for his incredible work in creating different dances to create the story arc and the work he did with the cast, sound designer Justin Ellington for his surprising and fun choices with the production sound and costume designer Claudia Brown for her subtle work in creating the story arch for Gordon and the color choices and pieces for the ensemble.
I cannot express enough how impressed I am with Nsangou Njikam’s writing with Synching Ink. Creating each spoken word/hip hop pieces for each character, the overall arc of the play for several characters and the original, interesting and funny characters he created while telling truths about his experience, makes Synching Ink an experience you have to see for yourself. I honestly hope you do.
Irene Hernandez is an actor, playwright/screenwriter, director, producer, singer, song writer, teaching artist, designing artisan, fine artist, art model and the artistic director of Dancing Frog Theater Company.
Where: The Flea complex (20 Thomas Street in Tribeca, between Church and Broadway, three blocks north of Chambers).
When: Performances run through October 29th
Tickets are available at Ovationtix.