Review by Alessandro Marcon
45 Minutes | Comedy, Musical | Rated R
A parody of both Shakespeare and hip-hop, Hip-hop Shakespeare Live Music Videos! is an upbeat, frolicking performance. Featuring only two performers, Melanie Karin and David Benedict Brown, the show soars through numerous hip-hop classics such as Jay Z’s 99 Problems and OutKast’s Mrs. Jackson (to name just a few) while taking the audience through eight Shakespeare hits. Othello, King Lear, The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, they’re all in the bag. Each play is re-created in a short skit which is performed in the style of a music video. There are stabbings, gun shots, silk-body dance moves, clenched fists to the sky and a couple wild splashes of sultry passion. With both actors playing all the characters, the “videos” are tight and deftly crafted. Especially surprising is the way that each song selection ties together the themes of Shakespeare with those of the tracks. It’s almost as if the dilemmas in the tunes mirror those in the plays.
Shakespeare’s plays, like hip-hop, play heavily with language. Characters are created, whereby irony, realism and projected opinions rattle around inside of the works, creating ripples upon ripples of connotation. No one can deny the richness of Shakespeare, yet hip-hop is hardly ever viewed in this manner. We never confuse the actor and human Daniel Day Louis with his sardonic and disturbing character in There Will Be Blood, yet do just that when Ghostface Killah raps about blown-up coke deals, or when Method Man spits lyrics of inserting a red-hot poker up somebody’s stink-hole. Somehow, our inability to view rap as a speculative exploration into character creation hinders its capacity as an art form to be something more than a representation of life in the inner-city. This is where Hip-hop Shakespeare makes a plausible connection: both forms of art can be concerned with story-telling. Both can be malleable, multifarious.
The only drawback I see with parodies of this nature – they’re everywhere on youtube – is that after some chuckles not much remains. Reading Shakespeare and listening to hip-hop have given me gesaltesque moments. They speak of worlds and have taken me to new ones. Obviously this production strives to be a playful homage more than anything else and playful parodies are fun, but like this production, quite one-dimensional. Because it’s all a parody, nothing is taken completely seriously, which gives the play both its charm and also its drawbacks. At one point in the play the mood got serious. Brown looked menacing. You could feel a silent-shiver flow over the audience. Some more scenes like this could have created more contrast and possibly a more rewarding experience.
Overall, the actors should be commended. The lines, though at times difficult to hear (possibly due to either poor sound or my poor hearing), went off without a scratch. The production had great flow. It was clearly well-rehearsed, tightly choreographed. Karin and Brown had great chemistry, just like espresso and biscotti or say, Billy and Biggie.
Hip-hop Shakespeare Live Music Videos! by Melanie Karin and David Benedict Brown is playing at Venue 1 – Arts Court Theatre (2 Daly Ave) on Saturday June 16 at 3:30 pm, Sunday June 17 at 9:30 pm, Tuesday June 19 6:30 pm, Saturday June 23 8:30pm and Sunday June 24 4:00 pm.