Saturday, October 26, 2013

Review: (Montreal) Sal Capone: The Lamentable Tragedy Of

Debut play by Omari Newton critiques both hip hop and authority figures
by  Sarah Deshaies
You’re waiting amongst dozens of other people, quietly chatting and mingling. Then the sirens blair, and a svelte, First Nations transvestite bursts into the crowded lobby, eager to stroke and chastise the waiting audience members. She works the room in red, lace-up heels and a leather jacket.You’re her “tourists”, on a journey into a tale of mythological hip hop and riotous rebellion. Welcome to Sal Capone: The Lamentable Tragedy Of, the brave if sometimes long-winded debut of playwright Omari Newton.

The gangster hip-hop trio of Sal Capone is on the brink of their first big musical launch when their gifted DJ, Sammy, is trailed and shot nine times by local police. He falls into a coma, leaving rappers Freddy (Tristan D. Lalla) and Jewel (Kim Villagante) and their business manager, Chase (Jordan Waunch) in disarray as they vent, bicker and figure out how to proceed.

All childhood friends, their relationships strain under the pressure of the impending show, while they try to understand just what led officers to pull their guns on Sammy.

Newton, a native Montrealer and actor, was inspired by the 2008 death of Fredy Villanueva, an 18-year-old shot and killed by an officer in an altercation in Montreal North. His death sparked outrage, riots and fierce criticism of the  SPVM's (Montreal Police Force)  handling of minority communities. He is also a critic of modern hip-hop conventions, as the naturally rebellious art form is being co-opted into a corporate brand.

There’s a lot of meaty issues to unpack: racism, homophobia, sexism, media criticism, poverty, drug abuse, prostitution, the treatment of aboriginals, addiction to technology. Newton’s cup runneth over with several identities at play: being Asian, white, black, First Nations, gay, immigrant, poor, female, young... You can feel him wanting to pay respect to a dizzying array of sensitivities, a truly Canadian and liberal move. Lovers of identity politics will have a field day.

(The show is a co-production of Black Theatre Workshop, and Vancouver-based urban ink productions, a group focusing on the voices of First Nations and “intercultural” artists; urban ink's artistic director Diane Roberts directs Sal Capone.)

It has the feel of a dark musical, with characters bringing out into mind-bending rap sequences. The story is winding, but at times, scenes get messy and unfocused. The imaginative multimedia sequences are not always effective. However, the performances are genuine, and Newton has shown that he can craft gems; moments of whipsmart dialogue, full of modern quips. When debating what led cops to confront Sammy, his friends puzzle over news reports that enigmatically reveal that the DJ “was known to police.” Jewel pronounces, “I'm known to the cashiers at Mickey D's; does that make me the Hamburglar?”

Sal Capone: The Lamentable Tragedy Of is a brash, wholly Canadian story with a Shakespearean touch, designed to both shock and tug at your heartstrings, no matter your age.

Runs until November 10 
Run time:  90 minutes, no intermission.

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