‘For Flow,’ An Almost-Beckett Hip-Hop Musical Play

From November 6 to 23, 2008 a new company called 25 to Life Productions, LLC will present “For Flow,” a hip-hop Vladimir-and-Estragon play, at Theater for the New City, Manhattan. This new play by Kesav M. Wable borrows Beckett’s existential landscape and transplants two “Beckettian” clowns–rappers to be exact–to a lonely street corner in the Bronx where they wait for a record producer. They’re later joined by a woman DJ and a Delta Blues guitarist who also meet at this crossroads in search of their own destinies. The characters share a soulful journey colored by live DJ sets, rap battles and blues guitar as they explore the philosophical genesis of rapping as an art form and hip-hop as a cultural movement. Jonathan Solari directs.

A HIPHIP VLADIMIR AND ESTRAGON — foreground: Devere Rogers; behind: Vladimi Versailles. Photo by Nadia Kitirath.

Dee and Kane (nee Vladimir and Estragon) are two MC’s from the borough of the Bronx searching for a way to climb out of their hardscrabble lives. In front of a Bronx bedoga, they await the arrival of “Flow,” a record producer Dee claims to have met in a club. Although each young man greets this opportunity with his own unique disposition, both are aware of how important this meeting is to their lives. They grapple with strategies, appearances and each other’s egos in preparation for their big meeting. Moreover, they confront existential dilemmas in the art of rapping and social dilemmas of hip-hop as a cultural movement.

In the course of the play two supporting characters (nee Pozzo and Lucky) pass by the street corner where Dee and Kane stand waiting. Roxanne is a DJ who is searching for a pawn shop; Broonzy is an elderly male blues guitarist in search of a lost family. The pair cajole the MC’s, hoping to achieve their own objectives. The relationship that develops between Roxanne and the MCs serves to examine the potency of a woman in hip-hop, both socially and musically. The relationship between Broonzy and the boys attempts to place rap in the larger context of African-American music with its tradition of finding freedom and protest through song despite oppressive socio-economic conditions.

Playwright Kesav M. Wable, who spent the first ten years of his life in South India, was trained in Indian classical music. His mother initially dismissed his passion for Hip-Hop, overlooking its similarity to Indian rhythms. Now he’s an actor with a law degree who indulges his literary mimetic gift by writing plays. In addition to Samuel Beckett, “For Flow” draws inspiration from the works of Suzan-Lori Parks, August Wilson, Zora-Neale Hurston, and Ralph Ellison. “I wanted to investigate the genesis of Hip-Hop and the circumstances that led to this art form,” Wable writes.

Wable was a 2006-07 Indo-American Arts Council (IAAC) inaugural South Asian Playwriting Fellow Lark Studio Theatre, where “For Flow” was staged as a directed reading in October, 2007. He is also author of “Ashoka’s Wheel” (2005), a political play about an Indian Hindu family. It had a directed reading in Chicago at Rasaka Theatre. In July 2006, the play was featured as a finalist in the Chicago Dramatists’ “Many Voices Project.” He is currently working on a new play entitled “Chakras.”

As an actor, he has appeared as Darius in Yong Soo Pak’s film “Antigone 5000.” He has performed in numerous stage productions including Stephen in Israel Horovitz’s “Line” at the 13th Street Repertory Theater, Hossein in “Khaddish in East Jerusalem” at Theater for the New City and Murellus in “Julius Caesar” at the National Black Theater. In 2004, he collaborated with Eye Blink Entertainment to stage an adaptation of Indian folk tales, “Beneath the Banyan Tree,” that he co-wrote with Qurrat Kadwani. He’s a graduate of Brooklyn Law School.

Director Jonathan Solari recently directed the world premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon’s “Green Sneakers” as part of the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival. He also directed Israel Horovitz’ “The Indian Wants the Bronx” in the OBIE-Award winning Peculiar Works Project East Village Fragments. Other works have been seen at Dixon Place, The Ohio Theatre and Orlando Shakespeare Festival. As an assistant director, he has worked with Bart Sher, Dan Sullivan, Daniel Kramer, Robert Lyons and Jo Bonney. He is currently directing a production of Howard Barker’s “Judith” at The Kraine. He is Artistic Director of The Centrifuge (www.thecentrifuge.org).

The play’s music designer, Stephen L. Smith, arranged for the cast to be coached by Nysis, a rising underground rap artist, for their “Free Styles” and performance skills. In the production, their Free Styles are meant to reveal the evolution of their talent from newbies to polished rappers. Hip-Hop is an improvisational art, and the actors have been encouraged to write their own rhymes. “It’s built-in character development,” asserts Wable. While Hip-Hop theater might seem a long stretch for the classically-trained, this cast has displayed astonishing chops–so much so that Wable and Solari abandoned the need to write lyrics for them and opted to nurture their creative contributions instead.

Previews are Nov. 6 & 7, 2008. The production opens Nov. 8 and closes Nov. 23. Theater for the New City is located at 155 First Avenue (at East Tenth Street), Manhattan. The performance schedule is Thurs. – Sat. at 8 PM, Sun. at 3 PM. Tickets are $18 general admission. The box office nuimber is 646-621-7891 and online ticketing is available at www.25tolifeproductions.com/events.html.

Jonathan Slaff writes on cultural events from the brainy, the edgy and the good. He helps us keep ahead of the curve in the world of the arts and culture.