Theatre review: With artistry and exuberance, “How We Got On” explores hip-hop’s roots

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From the February 20, 2014 edition

Like the greatest of rap lyrics, “How We Got On” expresses multiple meanings. Two rival suburban rappers, one black, one Latino, pool their complementary talents and get on as friends. It’s 1988, and soon they hope to enter a “Yo! MTV Raps” contest to get on the cable show and win the equipment that will help polish their sound. When the aspiring rhymin’ diamond Luann joins their crew, there’s some getting on each other’s nerves.

Depending upon your relationship to hip-hop culture, Idris Goodwin’s exuberant play will serve either as a solid history lesson about the origins, growth and influences of rap, or as what rapper Nas called “a trip straight through memory lane.” What Available Light Theatre’s toe-tappin’ rappin’ will not do is leave you either unmoving or unmoved.

Wilma Hatton stands behind the twin turntables as The Selector, the play’s DJ, narrator, guide and historian, as well as all the miscellaneous kids, fathers and others who populate the suburban “Hill” in which “How We Got On” gets on. Hatton is a marvel of voices and attitudes.

Rudy Frias plays Julian, AKA rapper Vic Vicious, the gentle-souled Latino kid with a gift for delivering the words of others. David Glover is Hank, the African-American other whose words Julian delivers. Together, they retain the awkwardness of 15-year-olds and the glints of promise. As wordsmith Luann, Kayla Jackmon imparts to the guys the ability to rhyme without paper, inhaling experience and exhaling artistry.

Like rhymes, “How We Got On” sticks in the mind.

Photo by Matt Slaybaugh

Photo caption: David Glover as Hank in Available Light's production of "How We Got On" by Idris Goodwin.