Playwright NSangou Njikam’s sprawling and engaging script follows the odyssey of Langston Hughes High School student Gordon. Consumed by hip-hop, he interacts with a series of more seasoned practitioners of the form in order to fulfill his dream of being an MC. That’s a master of ceremonies, one who has a supreme command of rhyming.
Hip-hop is like The Cat in The Hat on crack.
Mr. Njikam offers a witty take on the classic mythology of a hero’s episodic journey with a lively African-American slant. There are a lot of high school and college scenes with wise teachers referring to James Baldwin and W.E.B. Du Bois, combative students, a dying father and an imperious mother. Rhyming battles, love and enlightenment occur along the way. The narrative is so eventful and spread out that it can be difficult taking it all in and its overall impact is diluted.
Director Niegel Smith and choreographer and associate director Gabriel “Kwikstep” Dionisio’s collaboration results in a thrilling unison of movement and dance. The cast is all over the four-sided, relatively bare playing area, magnificently dancing and perfectly placed throughout.
McKenzie Frye, Nuri Hazzard, Elisha Lawson, Adesola A. Osakalumi, and Kara Young are the magnetic ensemble who all dazzle with their fierce characterizations in multiple roles. The regal DJ Reborn spins from high above as is if she were a goddess. Njikam plays Gordon with captivating wonderment and moving steeliness as he matures.
Justin Ellington’s artful sound design is a blasting realization of hip-hop with jazzy tones as well. Lighting designer Kevin Rigdon kinetically blends stark brightness and degrees of darkness to attain an epic dimension and convey the passage of time. The characters are all boldly rendered by Claudia Brown’s individualized, rainbow-style costume design. Scenic designer Riccardo Hernandez imaginatively provides steel poles, ramps and minimal furnishings to simply represent the numerous locales.
Before the audience enters the theater, a performer does some routines. Then inside there are announcements and there’s audience participation with those who wish to permitted to dance onstage. Then the actual two hour and twenty minute show begins. By the end, one may be drained from the sustained aural and visual intensity and the somewhat repetitiousness of the writing.
Besides its theatrical achievements, this premiere production of Syncing Ink is notable for where it’s playing. The adventurous Off Broadway company The Flea was founded in 1996. On September 28, 2017, they moved into their new Tribeca home, a recently built, three-theater complex. This is one of their inaugural presentations there.
Syncing Ink (through October 29, 2017)
The Flea (new venue)
The Sam, 20 Thomas Street, Tribeca, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-226-0051 or visit http://www.theflea.org
Running time: two hours and 50 minutes with one intermission