Brotherhood Blends Performance, Mythology and Street Culture
Sebastien Heins‘s award-winning rap parable Brotherhood: The Hip Hopera has an undeniably eye-catching title, but what gets me is the article — the “the.” It’s a small detail, but it makes a strong point: if any play were to capture and define such a genre as “hip hopera,” this is the one.
Currently playing at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre as part of b current theatre company’s afteRock Plays series (the other offering is Catherine Hernandez‘s The Femme Playlist), Brotherhood prepares the audience before the house lights go down with a montage of lo-fi videos from hip hop shows in the nineties. In this way, Heins lets Tupac and Jay-Z invoke the spirit of classic stadium rap that will animate this entire performance, where big dreams and gritty realities collide.
Heins draws his inspiration from the familiar rags-to-riches story that drives so much hip hop, and he finds his pathos in that tale’s usual conclusion, riches-to-ruin. Brotherhood describes the journey of CashMoney and MoneyPussy, twin brothers with little in common but their drug-addicted parents and their desperate desire to break out of the streets and claim some form of glory.
The play opens on the two brothers at the height of their fame, with Heins performing the roles of both brothers. (He’ll go on to showcase ten different characters throughout the play, a feat of continual fluid transformation that’s as diverse as it is absorbing to watch.) Things are tense between them, even on stage, and they rap their way into an argument that will culminate in tragedy. Heins’s incredibly expressive movements and storytelling are more convincing than his rapping, but ultimately all the elements hang together effectively.
Hip hop is a genre that deals in mythologies, and so it finds an appropriate counterpart in the opera. I think even season ticketholders to the COC would recognize their cherished medium in the soaring drama of Brotherhood. Opera simplifies the narrative in order to achieve grand heights of passion, and Heins likewise relies a few reliable fables and tales — Icarus, Cain and Abel — in order to focus on his movement and mime. He’s very talented, and watching him channel the characters through his body is the main appeal of this show.
That’s not to say that Brotherhood pulls its punches. Heins’s depictions of drug abuse and family dysfunction achieve an evocative balance of stylization and plain reality, and a long sequence in prison is genuinely disturbing. In fact, audiences will want to come prepared for a full dose of rap’s extremes, in terms of language and subject matter.
Heins is a young artist, and though that youthfulness comes through in some ways, he’s nonetheless created a work with a lot of heft. For a story about the dangers of ambition, I was really struck by the boldness of his vision. Brotherhood is a fascinating work from someone no doubt at the start of a thrilling career.
- Brotherhood: The Hip Hopera is playing at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (12 Alexander Street).
- Shows run October 10-25, Tuesday through Sunday.
- Ticket prices range from PWYC to $50, see website for details.
- A limited number of rush tickets are available at noon, in-person only, on the day of the performance.
- AfterRock Combo: See both shows on the same night and receive a special discount.
Photo provided by the company.