“Sal Capone” Play On Hip Hop & Discrimination is Tragically Funny [Review]

As I walked into the MAI, a small theatre on Jeanne Mance in the McGill Ghetto, the set was unlike I had ever seen it before. There was graffiti painted all over the walls, a dumpster and a young man who blended into the scenery. There was also a transgender street walker addressing herself straight at the audience, calling us “tourists” and other names as we observed the creepy back-alley setting.

Sal Capone: The Lamentable Tragedy Of” is a Hip Hop play that carries a strong political statement on the relationship between minorities and people in positions of authority in cities like Montreal and Vancouver. It opened last week to rave reviews from both critics and the public.

Written in 2010 by first-time playwright Omari Newton, who use to be the vocalist for Jazz-Hop band Kobayashi, Sal Capone was directed by Diane Roberts and produced by Black Theatre Workshop, in collaboration with Urban Ink Productions in Vancouver.

Blending dope, El-P sounding beats with a layer of multimedia images,  gives a hyperreal effect as the play recreates shootings and scenes of immense tension between police and youth. The play was inspired by the Fredy Villanueva tragedy, but its plot was different. In Sal Capone, a Real City Hip Hop group struggles with the shooting of one of its members, the talented DJ Sam I Am. Through the confused and troubling conversations of the remaining band members, the audience gets some rare insight into the politics of discrimination, on a larger social scale and also within Hip Hop culture.

That’s why this play should be on anyone’s bucket list, especially if you’re interested in hip hop and its broader role in society. The beauty of this play is that it succeeds in driving the point home, while not making it preachy or unfunny in any way. Thing is, I never thought I’d be laughing through such dark subject matter. With witty punchlines and jokes on discrimination, the playwright turns this into a tragicomedy with an emotional roller-coaster ranging from extreme frustration to total hilarity. While the characters can sometimes be offensive and caricatural, they embody stereotypes that are alive and well in our cities. Through their chaotic exchanges, an unsettling bigger picture develops and the spectator is drawn into thinking seriously about urban social issues.

I was really impressed by Kim Villagante’s performance, who is on her first acting stint. Her career as a spoken word artist made it extra compelling whenever she’d rap, and her sensitive portrayal of a young Filipina woman trying to gain acceptance in the rap game was nothing short of excellent. Tristan D. Lalla portrayed Freddy, whose stage name is Sal, a young black man who has grown frustrated and tired of being considered as a suspect, and his little sister who is played by Letitia Brookes. Jordan Waunch also had some great moments as “Chase Cheddar”, the band’s white manager (“I’m not white, I’m Sicilian !”), one of the boys from the crew who has long forgotten about the art and is now driven by the music business. Cree first nation actor Bill Merasty took up the task of dressing up as a street walker, Mac/Shanaynay, the emcee and narrator of the story. With five main roles, these actors recreate the dynamic of a struggling music group trying to make it out of the hood, and successfully use timing and intonation to make the play feel reel.

With a funny and compelling script integrating many of our cultures (Black, Asian, White, French, First Nation), a set that reflects the reality of most Canadian underprivileged neighbourhoods and a great cast, Sal Capone is a unique opportunity to see a play that hits close to home. Anyone who wants to have a critical reflexion on Hip Hop and discrimination in Canada and Quebec, needs to see Sal Capone.

The play is still going until November 10th. Click here for more information.


One Response to ““Sal Capone” Play On Hip Hop & Discrimination is Tragically Funny [Review]”
  1. hope says:

    soooo dope! i loved it and highly recommend it to others. GO SEE IT NOWWWWWW

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