By ANNE SIEGEL
In honor of hip hop’s 50th anniversary, Milwaukee Repertory Theater presents Parental Advisory, a breakbeat play. The Rep’s intimate Stiemke Studio stage has been turned into a recording studio for the show, with theater patrons representing a sort-of concert audience. Parental Advisory opened on Friday and continues through October 29.
In the 75-minute show, an older rapper and poet (who now has three kids to raise) reminisces about his own upbringing and the “consciousness raising” that led him to pursue this career path. The MC (Amir Abdullah) and his friend and co-creator, Timeless (Marvin Quijada) talk endlessly about an album they wrote but have not yet released.
Playwright Idris Goodwin deserves credit for walking a fine line while relating his characters’ stories. Although the deejay announces that “we are here for all carbon-based life forms,” that’s a tricky act to deliver onstage. Honoring the origins of rap music is not going to sit well with an audience of elderly white folks, which is what opening night mostly consisted of.
Director Kyle Haden keeps things moving at a nice pace. The rap lyrics are actually understandable. Audiences will have an easier time grasping these lyrics than while watching a live performance of the musical Hamilton.
Goodwin tiptoes around his subject, careful to use the “n word” only once in the play, and purposely fails to elaborate on the full title of the rap group NWA. During the rap sequences, the deejay encourages the audience to “let these beats into your soul.” There are also a number of call-and-response sequences meant to “stir up” the audience. If the actors are inwardly disappointed with the audience’s lackluster reaction, they don’t let it show.
However, audiences who are unfamiliar with the “parental advisory” stickers once slapped on rap albums aren’t going to appreciate much from this show. (One can hardly argue that a rap refrain “F*%$ the police” isn’t meant for young ears – or anyone’s ears.) Expect a lot of discussion centered around Wu-Tang Clan. Older white audiences may recognize references to Motley Crue, Black Sabbath and other metal bands, as well as Prince and Sheena Easton.
However, just like it says in the ad jingle, “this isn’t your grandfather’s Buick,” Parental Advisory needs to attract a younger crowd to be fully appreciated. The two actors do a magnificent job here, and they deserve to be seen (and heard) by an audience that relates to them.
Parental Advisory – a backbeat play continues through October 29 in the Stiemke Studio at Milwaukee Repertory Theater. For tickets, click on MilwaukeeRep.com, call 414-224-9490, or visit the box office at 108 E. Wells St.