BWW Review: FRESHH Inc.'s HERSTORY: LOVE FOREVER, HIP HOP at KENNEDY CENTER HIP HOP CULTURE
As soon as you walk in the door, you know this won't be just another night at the Kennedy Center. Members of "Sister Cipher", FRESHH Inc.'s writing circle for Black women in theatre, draw you into the intimate Family Theatre. A timeline of the evolution of Hip Hop escorts you up the stairs and into the theatre proper, where you are greeted by the thumping beats of Miss H.E.R. and DJ Cleveland Browne.
Inspired by Common's 1994 "I Used to Love H.E.R.", director and playwright Goldie E. Patrick has brought together a dynamic cast of five to tell the story of the role of women in Hip Hop. HERstory: Love Forever, Hip Hop continues this personification of Hip Hop and this time we find HER in a hospital bed, on life support. Gathered by her side are Isys (Aakhu TuahNera Freeman), KK (Heather Gibson), Lele (Preshona Ambri), Eve (Billie Krishawn), and Maxine (Audei Polk).
What unfolds is a love letter to HER and to all women who have shaped and influenced Hip Hop. Patrick's writing and creative direction allows each of the five characters to beautifully articulate their own connection to HER. These women are strong, fierce, and independent; they push back against each other, never agreeing for agreement's sake. You can feel the bond between the cast while they struggle to determine their future relationship with HER and whether she is worth saving.
Isys/Imani (Aakhu TuahNera Freeman) has been with HER the longest, a callback to the Afrocentric rap roots of Hip Hop that began with The Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" in 1980. Freeman's Isys carries a weariness and wisdom born of experience. Maxine (Audei Polk) is a former dancer who struggles to bridge the HER that she knows and the HER that her daughter revers. Lele (Preshona Ambri), music producer and object of Maxine's daughter's adoration, struggles to reconcile her sexuality with her career in Hip Hop. Heather Gibson pulls double duty as unabashed celebrity reporter K.K. and as the voice over for HER, each role requiring enormous authenticity and vulnerability.
Patrick's script allows for several breakout moments for each actor, but the storyline turns on the experience of Eve, played by a luminescent Billie Krishawn. Eve, as the youngest of the group, reminds us of why and how we first fell in love with HER. As she eloquently puts it, she has a deep respect for the past, but it is her generation's turn to have their time with HER, to make HER their own. It is a beautiful reminder that those of us of a certain age often need to hear.
Make no mistake, HERstory is poetry in sight and sound. Designers John D. Alexander (Lighting), Timothy Jones (Scenic), and Katherine Freer (Projections) weave the perfect canvas on which this moving narrative plays out. Special kudos to sound designer Crescent Haynes, who artfully balances the extensive use of music with dialogue throughout the performance.
As sometimes is the case with poetry, the thread can be a little confusing, especially if you're not familiar with the history of Hip Hop, its evolution, and its controversies. The role of dramaturg for HERstory is filled by "Hip Hop Veritas", Ayana Patrick. Through interactive lobby displays to playbill notes to a specially curated playlist, even those new to Hip Hop will gain an appreciation for this amazing music and culture.
HERstory: Love Forever, Hip Hop runs approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.
To learn more about the Kennedy Center Hip Hop Culture series, visit http://www.kennedy-center.org/calendar/series/HHC
Director, Playwright Goldie E. Patrick / Associate Director Fatima Quander / Assistant Director Niree Turner / Lighting Designer John D. Alexander / Sound Designer Crescent Haynes / Scenic Designer Timothy Jones / Projection Designer Katherine Freer / Stage Manager Kendall Arin Claxton / Hip Hop Veritas Ayana Patrick