Usually characters in plays travel physically, emotionally or both. This is certainly the case in the 1988-set Company One New England premiere “How We Got On”- with budding 15-year-old Hip Hop rappers exploring locations as well as feelings. At the outdoors Arts After Hours staging of “Much Ado About Nothing,” audience members actually follow cast members from scene to scene in the Lynn Woods as young lovers and somewhat older ones explore their feelings in this Shakespearean skirmish of wits. Elsewhere, A Canadian woman travels to Austria to see her severely ill cousin and makes her way through a Vienna collection of art with the help of a thoughtful security guard in an unusual film called “Museum Hours.”
“How We Got On”, an ATCA Steinberg New Play Award nominee by Hip Hop aesthetics teacher Idris Goodwin, pits tentative rapper Hank against ostensibly self-confident rival Julian. Hank and Julian are a striking study in contrast. Suburban Hank does well with his studies but struggles to convince his father that his rhythmic and heartfelt rap rates his attention as much as the work of African-American master poet Robert Hayden. City guy Julian seems to pay less attention to school and more to his Michael Jordan sneakers and agonizes over the emotional distance he experiences with his father. He cuts a plucky and stylish figure when he performs but his self- esteem is anything but high.
Eventually the apparent opponents begin to bond somewhat through their shared coming-of-age sentiments and father-son conflicts. A fairly affluent and even more self-assured rapper named Luann sometimes steals their thunder with her own very smooth deliveries. At an above ground music booth- surrounded by set designer Janie C. Howland with the same cassette-decorated cubes near which the rappers perform—sits a female DJ known as Selector. Selector plays 80’s hits—supplemented with original music by Goodwin himself- and also doubles vocally as father for the two male rappers.
Luann, a female rapper from affluent roots and sporting more self-assurance than even Julian, makes her own bid for stardom. Along the way, all three adolescents learn respective lessons about their music, their dreams and themselves. At times Hank and Julian seem to be bonding as buddies. Does Goodwin have a major message here about friendship? If theatergoers care about these characters, it may have more to do with Summer L. Williams’ sharp direction and dynamic efforts by Kadahj Bennett as Hank and Jared Brown as Julian than with Goodwin’s informative and sometimes affecting play.
Bennett catches all of Hank’s diffidence as well as his soulfulness. Brown finds Julian’s charismatic demeanor in rap but never loses sight of his vulnerability. Miranda Craigwell smoothly moves from narrating DJ Selector evoking 1980’s developments in hip hop and rap to parent advice respectively for Hank and Julian. Only Cloteal Horne seems one-dimensional in her performance and characterization, though the repetitious rap and less striking characterization here seem to be more the fault of Goodwin’s writing than her acting.
Acclaim notwithstanding, Goodwin’s play comes across as more of a flashy debut than a fully realized effort. Still, Williams and most of the high energy Company One cast make “How We Got On” a largely joyful experience.
How We Got On, Company One, Plaza Theatre, Boston Center for the Arts, through August 17. 617-933-8600 or companyone.org
Shakespeare imbued his comedies with a joyful wit, and “Much Ado About Nothing” has its own satisfying bounty. Arts After Hours has smartly set Benedick and Beatrice’s verbal warfare in the Lynn Woods and invited audience members to be spectators (Theatergoers are advised to wear sneakers or good walking shoes). Director Hondo Weiss-Richmond makes the experience fully rewarding with an approach that fully captures the darker moments—Claudio’s rush to judgment about charges of infidelity against his betrothed Hero— as well as the light-hearted game playing between the wit warriors.
Lorne Batman displays Beatrice’s inner strength and her caring for her cousin Hero. Woody Gaul is even better delivering Benedick’s observations and blossoming love for Beatrice with great flair. Sam Tilles is a standout as conflicted Claudio- demonstrating his bromantic feeling for his best friend one moment and agonizing about having doubted Hero’s love at another. Anna Waldron is equally moving as innocent and exuberant Hero.
Arthur Waldstein has all of uncle Leonato’s fairness and concern for Hero. Out performer James Tallach, one of the Hub’s finest young character actors, brings new depth to the role of fellow uncle Antonio, a part often underplayed. Bryan Max Bernfeld’s heartfelt Borachio- villainous Don John’s henchman- makes this relatively minor if pivotal character more interesting than in the many other productions of the play that this critic has seen. In an interesting gender- bending, Don John is played by Kimberly Feener, who needs more projection and venom as John. Gina Naggar’s rousing original compositions –played with verve- help to make this “Much Ado” really something.
Much Ado About Nothing, Arts After Hours, Lynn Woods, through August 11. artsafterhours.com or 781-205-4010.
Art lovers often wonder what stories painters are alluding to in their canvases. So it goes with “Museum Hours,” New York filmmaker and video artist Jem Cohen’s portrait of two seeming loners-out security guard Johann and Canadian visitor Anna—and their unusual Vienna relationship, largely filmed in Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum. As Johann serves as sometime translator and guide to the museum’s impressive collection of European masters- Rembrandt self-portraits and Brueghel the Elder’s images of peasants among them, writer, director Cohen creates a remarkable visual essay about the affinities between life and art.
Together with co-photographer Peter Roehsler, he is also suggesting-especially in nuanced shots of working-class Austrians—that all generations are potential sources for masterworks. Bobby Sommer is strikingly unassuming as Johann, and Mary Margaret O’Hara sings sweetly as big-hearted Anna. Ela Piplits makes the most of art historian Gerda Pachner’s intriguing take on particular paintings. If too slow in its pacing, “Museum Hours” may nonetheless have filmgoers observing the rich diversity of humanity with an artist’s eye going forward.
West Newton Cinema, 617-964-8074.