Theater review: 'The Word Begins' at Los Angeles Theatre Center
From time immemorial poets have been cleaning the cobwebs off language to get us to see reality with fresh eyes. In “The Word Begins,” Steve Connell and Sekou Andrews give us a modern urban update of the poet’s quest for authentic speech, mixing hip-hop, spoken word, stand-up comedy and a kind of secular evangelism in a theatrical package that isn’t afraid to flaunt its utopian longings.
The show, which runs through Sunday at the Los Angeles Theatre Center as part of Radar LA (and can be seen later this month at Rogue Machine), is motivated by the desire to follow God’s instructions: “Before you die—give me one masterpiece. Do not make me regret you....” That struggle is a life’s work, and Connell and Andrews map out the journeys of consciousness that led to their taking up of this divine challenge with their antic vocabularies and earnest playfulness.
The piece, developed and directed by Robert Egan, hits hardest when it stands up against the hypocrisy of a world in which “you can get away with killing as many people as you want/in the name of whatever it is you want/so long as you name whatever it is you want:/’Justice’ or ‘Liberation’ or ‘God.’” The ambition to inspire, however, doesn’t always provoke the duo's most original writing, so it’s something of relief when the talk turns to “the ugly hard of loving” and the flawed aspect of everyday living gets acknowledged in the social justice crusade.
“The Word Begins” could use some condensing, but the performers have a natural chemistry. Connell has a clownish side and a direct fearlessness; Andrews has a lush voice and an easy lyricism. Their humor can get down and dirty, but their good intentions are never in doubt.
“The Word Begins,” Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St, L.A. 7:30 p.m. Friday, 9:30 p.m. Saturday. 5 p.m. Sunday. Ends Sunday. $20. (213) 237-2800. or www.radarla.org. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.
Photo: Steve Connell and Sekou Andrews in "The Word Begins." Credit: Signature Theatre