On the night that New York State achieved marriage equality, I attended a little show in WeHo’s Celebration Theatre to hear a story about how a similar fight was fought in Canada. Our storytellers for the evening are the dynamic duo of Feminem (Sean Bradford) and T-Bag (Chris Ferro). With rhyme and rhyme and a lot of fancy footwork, the two performers brought to life Bash’d A Gay Rap Opera.
The first number "Cocksuckaz" is a terrific crowd-pleasing icebreaker. Pretty much flipping the bird at the delicate souls in the house, the tune sets the irreverent tone for the evening, smartly addressing the whole “rap music” issue. Feminem and T-Bag engage and assuage the audience with a defiant "Coming Out the Closet," With introductions aside, Feminem and T-Bag take on the characters in a modern day Canadian Romeo & Romeo story. Dylan, played by T-Bag, is the naïve country boy who moves to the city after coming out to his parents. Jack, played by Feminem, is the far more worldly city boy raised by a Gay couple who never struggled with his sexual orientation.
They find each other in a club one night, across a crowd dance floor filled with every shade of queer, as regaled in the song "Grab Some Ass," Their eyes meet and the rest of the world goes away. At first they are drunk with the newness of infatuation. Next they grapple with the opposition of personality that so powerfully attracts them to one another. They dance with the idea of I Do. Finally, they make their lives as a couple, out in the world. But, as in most star-crossed tales, tragedy ensues when the romance is still young. And it is an abyss from which the young couple never recovers.
The Celebration Theatre production of Bash’d A Gay Rap Opera is a good one. It is a seventy-five minute adrenaline rush so you’d better hold on or else. Sean Bradford and Chris Ferro are clearly the hardest working performers in Hollywood at the moment. With their dual roles as rappers and lovers, and the show’s entire universe of characters, they are making role reversal at neck-breaking speed and they are both largely successful at it. Throw in the fact that the entire performance is in rhymed couplets and you have the great artistic work of two very talented young men.
Amidst the hip hop songs and shuffling personas were strong hints at real chemistry between Bradford and Ferro. A piece like this can sometimes leave the acting by the wayside, leaving the plot to to all the work in terms of engaging the audience. I admit, I did want to see more of this couple just being a couple. But Direcrtor Ameenah Kaplan rightly paced the piece so that its momentum is in service of the confrontational truth of the story.
The multimedia projections were possibly the most ambitious element of the production. In aid to the two performers on the raised thrust stage, images were projected and prerecorded voices intertwined with the live performers. The multimedia was a savvy way to both popular the story with more characters and to give the two actors brief much needed breathers throughout the show. This might be the only place where is room for improvement in this show. Conceptually, the multimedia elements are great, but the more they are used, the less effective they become. At a certain point in the show, it almost feels like the show needs one more performer, a third utility player to help act out all those peripheral characters. But that, as you will see when you go, kinda defeats the ultimate purpose of the story.
I am not a fan of rap music. So I can’t with great authority say that this music was good or bad. I can say that I have a great time. As a story and piece of theatre, I was moved to laugh and to anger and reduced to a bit teary during this play. Sounds to me like Bash’d hits all the right notes.
Bash’d A Gay Rap Opera is currently running through July 25, 2011 at:
7051 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90038