Can’t stop, won’t stop
How We Got On
Sacramento, CA 95814
Who’d have thunk it? I’ll admit, I was surprised. The B Street Theatre has staged a new play about black and Latino teens aspiring to fame, or at least local recognition, as rappers in 1988. And rather than bolt for the exits, the B Street audience—predominantly white folks of a certain age, who were well past their teens during the decade in question (a description that applies to this reviewer)—embraced the show warmly on opening night.
Of course, let’s note that playwright Idris Goodwin has placed How We Got On in a pleasant Midwestern suburb—these kids order pizza in a strip mall, climb the town’s water tower on a dare by night and ride bicycles to high school. It’s not a hard-edged urban scene, and there’s not a weapon in sight (though they refer to “the city” as being not so far away). As the play’s title implies, it’s a peaceable saga.
Goodwin’s script—interpreted by B Street director Buck Busfield, visiting sound designer Elisheba Ittoop and visiting actors (three have appeared in previous productions elsewhere, and brought their dance steps with them)—lays out a competitive friendship between the somewhat cerebral, lyric-scribbling Hank (Terrell Donnell Sledge) and the stage-capable Julian (Brian Quijada), who can swagger, but can’t spin his own words. They’re joined by Luann (Deonna Bouye), a girl (!) capable of improvisation and willing to show Hank how it’s done.
Throughout, the Selector (PaSean Wilson) presides behind a turntable, genially explaining (for elders) how rap numbers were structured and produced using the technology of the time. The Selector also represents the kids’ rap-skeptical fathers (an academic, a pressured sales rep and a professional athlete, respectively). This glimpsed parent-teen relationship, with the kids struggling to justify their music, is one of this show’s ancillary payoffs.
The story fades into the future more than it resolves, but that’s all right. How We Got On works nicely as a slice of life that illuminates a particular place and time, with some appealing young characters who are finding themselves.