Different Tribe, Different Vibe. I think that’s right, I forgot my notebook Sunday night. Although it was also presented as Different Vibe, Different Tribe, I believe as we fell under the spell of Timeless and The MC. So is that a rhyming couplet? It has the rhyme and matching meter…but is it long enough? Does it have enough syllables? Is it truly a couplet? This is important because there will be a quiz later!
So the Milwaukee Repertory Theater has finally opened their 2023/24 season in the Stiemke Studio with their World Premiere of Idris Goodwin’s Parental Advisory, a breakbeat play. And to put us off our game right up front, we enter the Stiemke by wandering around the back and entering the theater from the west (stage left) rather than the more direct east access from the lobby…and we come into a cozy recording studio/rehearsal space with all of the required electronics plus the requisite Persian carpets and sample posters/LP covers along the wall space and Timeless working his beats machine and turntables.
And as The MC enters the scene it would seem at first that we are going to be regaled with a musical driven by rap and hip hop music, but as you will see, we will be happily wrong! First it seems we will be privy to a song development recording session, but as the conversation starts to turn to previously completed but unreleased material, the whole scene fluidly evolves into a concert…which Timeless re-imagines as a ‘salon’…to a couple confrontation…and reconciliation…to some personal histories…to music history…to cultural history…to some fun and wordplay in the studio…to that quiz as the conversation now includes the audience (the fourth wall has really taken a beating in Wisconsin theaters in 2023). So is this about Rap and Hip Hop? Well, yes and no, we do celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Hip Hop but through the lens of lived experience of black male America and the reaction and over reaction of many others in the nation. So there is some pretty intense and biting commentary here and some of it is very pertinent to our contemporary circumstances.
One key topic is censorship. And I bet you can guess from the play’s title, what we are initially talking about. The movement in the latter part of the 20th Century to label offensive music with the Parental Advisory label. Often unfairly and from someone who lived during the era and had been in the music business just before that period, very, very arbitrarily. And of course that Parental Advisory label which was a advisory label for parents became an imprimatur of sorts for the young audience who needed to be protected.
Which brings us around to directly focus on Timeless and The MC. They are adults now and The MC is a father of young children which leads to a pretty angst filled conversation about personal censorship…when is a child old enough to partake of edgy media content. This gets pretty interesting and I don’t think we ever come to a final decision.
Now, there are some very very funny bits in here too and if you are only somewhat aware of the history and contributions of Hip Hop to music and culture, this will provide a valuable starting point. And you will find out who put the Wu in the Wu-Tang Clan!
Now, The MC is Amir Abdullah and his partner in rhyme (yeah I stole that) is the DJ, Timeless, played by Marvin Quijada. You are immediately at ease with these gentlemen and although you know that this is a play and that they are actors, you totally accept them as a DJ and The MC, as a successful rap team: wholly and without restrictions. And thankfully Scenic Designer Sidney Lynne’s cozy recording studio makes full use of the width of the Stiemke stage space and leaves plenty of room for Abdullah to flow across the room as he raps and as he expounds. And the console that Timeless works, gives Quijada an anchor and a foil to help with his inflections when talking with MC, while also providing musical underpinnings and examples of the topic at hand. Their timing is spot on. Director Kyle Haden got the feel and interplay between the characters, the actors, and the text precisely right!
All three Rep stages are now lit…but if only have time to catch one play this month, this is the one you should see.
Parental Advisory runs through October 29, 2023 and more info and ticket ordering can be found here.