How We Got On, a brilliant new play from Forum Theatre by playwright Idris Goodwin, tells the story of three kids in 1988 who fall in love with rap and hip hop and set out to make a record together. Or How We Got On tells the story of the first few black and Latino kids to move to the midwestern suburbs. Or it tells the story of a new form of music – hip-hop – and the beat boxing, rhyming, drumming, DJ-culture that sprung up around the rapidly evolving technology like the cassette tape. In fact, it is all of these things and more; the script itself is one long love poem to the English language. I loved it.
Goodwin explores the tropes of a coming of age story and touches race, religion, and family without stereotypes and without taking the whole thing too seriously. Plus, the language is incredible. Forum has brought it to life with period costumes by Frank Labovitz that look vintage ‘80s without caricature. The set by John Bowher focuses on a decked-out DJ stand filled with such miracles as an overhead projector. The whole stage is painted against a graffiti backdrop lit by Christopher Annas-Lee. The stage is left bare to accommodate the rapped, danced, intricately designed movement of the play.
Director Paige Hernandez is as much choreographer as director. Truly, every moment seemed to be staged for maximum impact. Sound Designer Thomas Sowers has to be equally nimble as the actors are constantly playing music, jumping through crowds, or walking down streets that exist only in the sound.
The actors bring this all to life. Alina Collins Maldonado (Selector) is narrator, DJ, MC, and whatever other character is needed. She pulls this off on the strength of her charisma and total commitment each second she’s on stage.
Hank (Manu Kumasi) is sweetness and enthusiasm embodied. The quiet writer type who wants to rap but finds it easier to write for the confident performer, Julian (Thony Mena). Luann (Kashayna Johnson) wants to join their “crew” and outshines them both with her ability to improvise. All three have managed to capture the flash bang of innocence and ambition that is adolescence and play off one another with perfect timing. The level of rehearsal this must have taken to reach such synchronicity in every moment must have been huge.
For all that the play ranges over a dozen themes, in the end it’s a pretty simple story about three kids who want to tell their own stories and that focus on their burning desire to be good at this and to be heard is what gives the play such a punch. As Luann says, “I want to have my rhymes stuck in someone’s head.” Goodwin’s are certainly stuck in mine.
How We Got On is one of my favorite shows I’ve seen this year. It’s an inspirational, hilarious, poignant homage to hip-hop, suburbia, and childhood dreams.
Running Time: 1 hour and 20 minutes, with no intermission.
How We Got On plays though November 22, 2014 at Forum Theatre in residence at The Silver Spring Black Box – 8641 Colesville Road, in Silver Spring, MD. For tickets, purchase them online. Additional Pay-What-You-Can tickets will be available at the box office one hour prior to every performance.
Meet the cast and Director of How We Got On.