Writer Amiri Baraka wrote that poetry is not a poem, but a heightened sense of language found anywhere: a newspaper article, a conversation. The Live Theatre Gang’s production of the verse-play Printz of Poets (New York Comedy Club) underscores, robustly, Baraka’s contention. This collaborative writing effort is both urban and supernal. The plot is sometimes hokey, but the characters’ rhythmic idiolects are iridescent. And juxtaposed with the sublimely sloppy set replete with Biggie Smalls and seraphic Mariah Carey posters, this is postmodernist slob chic.
The play finds a young poet-rapper named Lemar (who lumbers awkwardly in his skin) grappling with unemployment, fame, and his girlfriend’s pregnancy. He is abetted by four actors playing different aspects of his psyche, who alternate between dozens trash talking and language that echoes the numinous. Skitz (Jomo Kellman) is equal parts Flava Flav and Mad Hatter. His nimble high jinks virtually eclipse the rest of the cast during his onanistic sketch “5 Minutes.” However, director Reed McCants’s deft touch is manifested in the way the comely Rastafarian sage Reason (Nacinimod Deodee) coolly tempers the verbal landscape with lines like “I must wrestle with the stolen soul nestled within this vessel.”
Countless times the writing rises to that of the superlative poet “outside of poetry”—the first “Big Willie”—Shakespeare. The evening’s provocative verbal whirlwind is only occasionally undermined by a phone prop (which is abused while trying to advance the plot), where disembodied voices, although funny, sound like cookie-cutter caricatures of African American thugs, nagging nanas, and nasal-voiced, Jewish bosses. Hip-hop is an unbridled and kinetic phenomenon, but director McCants elicits stillness and its formidable powers from his cast. He transforms this rap-to-riches narrative into an eye-opening experience, even if, somehow, you happen to be sleeping.