Word Becomes Flesh
nytheatre.com review by Ed Malin
January 7, 2012
On a bare stage, a group of African American men use intense spoken word and dance to communicate their feelings to their unborn children.
Some of the characters are looking forward to becoming fathers. Others, still feeling the loss of never knowing their own fathers, hesitate to commit to fatherhood.
It is a very powerful show, which asks: do we think life is worth living and why? The stereotype-defying piece, written and directed by Mark Bamuthi Joseph in 2003, has been revised and brought to the Under the Radar Festival by popular demand. It will tour throughout the U.S. over the next few years.
A baby's heartbeat is a reality that must be confronted. All of these men have something profound to say about the coming changes in their lives. However, some of them are better prepared than others.
One of the characters, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, is attending natural childbirth classes with his partner. He is excited and supportive, but notes that if he were giving birth he would say "knock me the f@#k out"
Another of the men says he is in the perfect relationship, with an Ailey dancer who travels a lot. When he chooses to cheat on his girlfriend and impregnates the other woman, he is afraid to settle down with someone who is pregnant and, by extension, real. This person is clear on why he doesn't want to lie to others (if not to himself) by stepping up to be a father.
Those are the lucky ones.
Other characters, portraying the black man versus the system, feel lucky to be alive from day to day. Their friends are being killed, and their own lives are unstable. Running away from the extra responsibility of fatherhood is portrayed as a matter of survival.
On a lighter note there is the section about "good music." Apparently, listening to fast, loud hip-hop has made us less loving individuals. The playwright asks, what if, when we make babies, we do it listening to Marvin Gaye or Luther Vandross? Would that mean we want our children's lives to be "not so hard", "not so rough", and finished "not so fast"?
The show is impressive for the performers' power to dance in so many styles while doing verbal gymnastics. Hats off to Dahlak Brathwaite, Daveed Diggs, Dion Decibels, Khalil Anthony, Michael Turner, and B. Yung. Haldun Morgan's lighting simultaneously singles in on these under-appreciated viewpoints and also shows how isolated these men feel.