Feb 13

Ash Rizin explores gang life through hip hop beats

by Jenna Shummoogum · 3 comments

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When playwrights of Ash Rizin, Michael P. Northey and Kyprios were commissioned by Green Thumb Theatre to begin writing a new play, a full-blown gang war was happening in the Lower Mainland in BC. And Calgary isn’t a stranger to gang violence either.

Ash Rizin opens to the tunes of DJ slippers. Set on the right hand side of the stage, his live mixed music fills the theater. The play tells of a young graffiti artist Ash Rizin (Aaron Hurst) who is invited by Dee Skillz (Luc Roderique) to join a hip hop group called Sick Daze. Ash is reluctant at first to join, saying he ‘doesn’t do crews’, but soon finds that being with the group, exploring hip hop, makes him happy. He grows closer to Clean (Ksenia Thurgood) after she admits that she’s envious of his talent, ‘you can spit gold,’ and they bond over the creative process. But when Ash runs into his old friend from high school Gat, (Kyle Jespersen) his life begins to change. The audience gets a glimpse into Gat’s life, and we also are introduced to his girlfriend Dosha (Allison Lynch). Gat pulls Ash into suburban gang life. Ash rises in the ranks, doing more jobs for Angel (Mike Wasko). He begins to blow off rehearsals. And he’s not doing his art anymore.

The narrative of the play takes place between songs. After all, it is a hip hop musical. The feelings that are expressed in the music is what gives this musical depth. The songs are high energy, soulful and have that ever-present beat. One scene in particular, where Clean and Ash have a battle and freestyle rapping the newspaper is a fun, playful and great to watch. It simultaneously shows Ash’s talent, while illustrating how the three work together to blend lyrics and beats. This play is most demanding on its actors in the rapping and singing department and their deliveries are quite impressive, given that the only actor with previous rapping skills is Roderique. The latter is solid in his delivery and his portrayal of  Skillz is well done. Thurgood fills out Clean both vocally and emotionally, and her rapping is also well done. Her song ‘Where did you go’ is a musical treat. Hurst has a lot of rapping to do as the main protagonists and his rhymes are quite solid, though his non rhyming could do with a little polishing. It’s Jespersen and Lynch who shine in this production. Jespersen as Gat is truly well cast, the way he moves, his progression throughout the play, the way he talks and walks, is flawless. Jespersen has become Gat, he is all of his insecurity and aggression. Lynch is amazing as Dosha, transforming from trashy to young over the course of the play, smoothly moving from strong to vulnerable in the blink of an eye. And her vocals are powerful. Wasko is strong as Angel, and his song ‘I hate hip hop’ is amusing and well performed but could do with a little more practice.

Ash Rizin, much like Thinking of Yu makes use of video projection. There are certain aspects of the video projection that the play could do without. It doesn’t have to display a change of location, as the scene changes on stage are enough to indicate that. There is so much to pay attention to on stage, the audience need not be distracted. The only exception was the clever use of the video screen for Ash’s graffiti art.

April Viczko’s costume design is worth noting. Gat is clad in a white hoodie and bling. Angel wears an appropriate leather jacket and Clean’s street clothes are perfect for her character. As Ash gets pulled deeper and deeper into gang life, his clothes begin to reflect that.

This play is engaging in its illustration of gang life. The play doesn’t make commentary on good or bad. It just realistically portrays the players within that lifestyle, illustrating their motivations and desires. All with a hip hop beat. It is crude, full of offensive language, with plenty of sex, drugs and a gunshot or two. But from top to bottom it is true to life and is not to be missed in this festival.

Ash Rizin is part of Alberta Theatre Projects Enbridge playRites Festival of New Canadian Plays. The festival is entering its 26th year. Tickets are available at the door or at atplive.com

Photo Credit: Trudie Lee Photography

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