Playwright Idris Goodwin sets his coming-of-age story in the 80s. The hip hop movement has just started. In the suburbs, three midwestern teenagers struggle to find their artistic voice. As they develop their craft, they must confront limited technology, family dysfunction, and jealous rivalries. Goodwin takes us back to our pre-internet existence. He reminds us how a boom box and imagination started a music revolution. His flashback has a sweet simplicity to it. The story of kids with big dreams is relatable. He mixes up their hopes with plenty of humor and heart.
Director Jess McLeod paces this with a snappy rhythm. On the versatile set Arnel Sancianco built, the transitions are smooth. We easily go from Pete’s Pizza to the water tower as a panel closes. He even has Angela Alise (Selector) perched above the set in a makeshift DJ booth. Alise sets the tone as the narrator. Upon arrival, we are greeted by Alise already spinning tunes. She is the knowledgable guide to the past. Throughout the show, Alise inserts nuggets of info and zesty zingers. She also distinctly plays each of the kids’ fathers.
McLeod’s spirited ensemble fill this stage with personality. At the core of this tale is the friendship between Tevion Lanier (Hank) and Johnathan Nieves (Julian). Lanier plays the hard-working music geek. And Nieves is the cocky hotshot. The rivals turned collaborators is a charming bromance. Then add in the spunky Ireon Roach (Luann) and this show is just tight. The threesome effortlessly go into poetic face-offs or big musical numbers. The show is upbeat, uplifting and unexpectedly poignant. In one scene, Nieves raps with passionate angst. When Lanier places his hand on Nieves’ shoulder, tears run down my face.
Even though I’m not a huge fan of rap music, I really enjoyed this play. I recommend getting on HOW WE GOT ON.
NOTE: At each performance, six high school students will be admitted free with valid school ID.
Running: Eighty minutes with no intermission
At The Den Theatre, 1335 Milwaukee
Written by Idris Goodwin
Directed by Jess McLeod
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8pm
Sundays at 3pm
Thru November 12th
Buy Tickets at www.haventheatrechicago.com
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