Marc Bamuthi Joseph and the Living Word Project: Word Becomes Flesh
Jan. 31, 2013
"Our skin don't translate well here."
One of the lines from "Word Becomes Flesh," a performance that's part of Segerstrom Center's Off Festival programming, could've been tailor-made for Orange County — a place where people pretend racism doesn't exist, but KKK members are commemorated in park, building and street names. It's set on a bare stage, performed by a DJ and five black men in black sweats and tank tops delivering monologues. It sounds simple, but it's not.
"Word Becomes Flesh" didn't need much beyond a bare stage and minimal stage lighting. It's simplicity only emphasized the story of a man talking to his unborn son, trying to make sense how his own life would hold up to the lifelong commitment of fatherhood. But following his life — as an abandoned child, as a black man, as someone in love with not-the-mother of his child — through an intense hour-long play, was a joy. The verbal play was complex, the ideas challenging, the emotions high. Even the jokes (yes, there's a dead-on Nicki Minaj impersonation) were cerebral.
"Word Becomes Flesh" uses poetry, dance and hip-hop to present a series of letters to unborn son, documenting the nine months from a young, single dad's perspective. As mundane and cliche as it sounds — it's not. Called a "choreoplay," it seamlessly moves from interpretative dance to slam poetry, weaving in and out of topics such as social issues and personal angst, using hip-hop music to emphasize and delineate movement and punctuations in the performance.
As a new parent myself, I found many of the fears expressed in the play to be totally relatable. Our experiences — I hate to say universal — are crazily similar when faced with the fears of bringing in a new life to the world.
But I marveled at how different every perception of creation is for each person. Sure, every dad-to-be expresses relief at having a son over a daughter (you don't have to be so paranoid about keeping them safe) but not every dad worries about his child being discriminated against, held up or shot because of the color of their skin.
And the poetry was so good — I wanted to commit so many lines to memory.
On meeting the mother of his child: "Her crescent eyes flipped my earth"
On raising a black man: "Your mere existence is a conflict."
On the ambivalence of fatherhood: "If parents only had children when they were good and ready there would be a total of three children in the world."
On his experiences with his own father: "I'm wishing you away so I won't have to run."
"Word Becomes Flesh" was written by award-winning poet Marc Bamuthi Joseph, and then recreated for a cast by the The Living Word Project, the resident theater company of Youth Speaks Inc. Youth Speaks is a nonprofit organization that seeks to empower the youth through art — mostly through theater and spoken-word. According to DJ Dion Decibels, Joseph — who is also the artistic director emeritus of The Living Word Project — worked with almost all of the cast previously and scouted them through various Youth Speaks programs across the country. Everyone in the cast is a rapper, DJ, actor and writer as well.
The performance started with a child's heartbeat, was sustained by poetry, movement and intensity, ended with love. It sounds corny, from a new parent, but it's true. Even if you haven't experienced the joy of creating your own little mini-mes, "Word Becomes Flesh" will lead you to your own epiphanies. With the standing ovation the cast got at the end of the play, it seemed that everyone in the audience felt the same way.
"Word Becomes Flesh," 8:30 p.m., Feb. 1 and Feb. 2, Samueli Theater,Segerstrom Center for the Arts 600 Town Center Drive Costa Mesa.