Idris Goodwin’s affectionate portrait of suburban kids in an unnamed Midwestern metro area discovering hip-hop in the Yo! MTV Raps era is charming, if somewhat slight. Though it premiered in 2012 at Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Humana Festival of New American Plays, thus predating the dumb 2015 controversy that was stirred by the Goodwin-cowritten This Is Modern Art at Steppenwolf, the two plays show strong parallels—though the authority figures the kids in How We Got On rebel against are generally parental, not the police.
Hank (Tevion Lanier) is finding his voice as a writer of rhymes, but can’t spit like Julian (Johnathan Nieves); a tentative rap battle between the teens leads to a partnership. That attracts the attention of Luann (Ireon Roach), the daughter of an NBA star whose MC skills outshine either of the boys.
The trio’s sweet coming-of-age narrative is given a beat by a DJ referred to as Selector (Angela Alise), a kind of benevolent spirit of hip-hop who literally watches over them in Jess McLeod’s winsome production for Haven Theatre. If the story is modest, it’s still infectious, and a strong introduction to a clutch of highly talented young actors worth watching.
Haven Theatre at the Den Theatre. By Idris Goodwin. Directed by Jess McLeod. With Tevion Lanier, Johnathan Nieves, Ireon Roach, Angela Alise. Running time: 1hr 20mins; no intermission.