Smooth jazz strains mix enticingly with the jagged beat and rhymes of gangsta rap in A View From 151st Street, Bob Glaudini’s urban slice-of-life drama. Grade-school teacher Irene (Elizabeth Rodriguez) uses a song from Li’l Kim to inspire her students. Drug dealer and would-be hip-hop star Delroy (Craig “muMs” Grant) improvises raps on a Harlem street corner. When Irene and her teacher sister-in-law Lena (Liza Colón-Zayas) grade their students’ papers, light jazz plays in the background. The aural world ofView—created by sound designer Bart Fasbender, composer Michael Cain, and a combo led by Bryan Noll—is the most fascinating aspect of this intricately plotted play.
But it’s surprising that View never crackles with the intensity of its rich soundtrack, especially when a police sting involving Lena’s detective husband Daniel (Juan Carlos Hernandez) goes bad, sending Delroy’s world colliding into the teachers’. Peter DuBois’s lackadaisical staging only enhances a sense of aimlessness; the scenes involving the cop and his family feel mundane and strangely familiar, and Delroy’s rap solos become wearisome (they turn increasingly incoherent as he descends into a crack-induced haze following his tragic encounter with Daniel). The piece flashes to life, though, whenever Ray (Andre Royo), a recovering crack addict and ex-Army bud of Daniel’s, or Mara (Marisa Malone), a Russian émigré nurse caring for both men, are onstage. Here, there’s a vibrancy in writing and performance that matches the glorious musical cacophony underscoring the characters’ lives.