L-Vis Live! at Victory Gardens Biograph Theater | Theater review

Kevin Coval brings his rapping alter ego from the page to the stage.
Photograph: courtesy of Victory Gardens Theater Kevin Coval in L-Vis Live!

“There is nothing more gangster than taking a language you have no culture for,” rapper L-Vis says toward the end of his career. Over the course of this one-man show, presented as part of Victory Gardens’ Fresh Squeezed series, writer-performer Kevin Coval traces his character’s journey from his parents’ basement in the Chicago suburbs to hip-hop superstardom. Based on his 2011 book L-Vis Lives!: Racemusic Poems, Coval uses L-Vis’s story to look at the struggles of white artists to gain legitimacy in the hip-hop industry, from the Beastie Boys to Vanilla Ice to Eminem.

L-Vis has a sense of humor about himself at the start, playing his whiteness for laughs as he attempts to break-dance or create a rap for his friend’s student-council election. As L-Vis’s fame grows, that humor becomes part of his problem, preventing him from establishing himself as a serious artist.

Coval, cofounder and artistic director of the teen poetry festival Louder than a Bomb, has a smooth flow and quick tongue that bring a crackling energy to his hip-hop-inspired verse. Jess McLeod’s active staging keeps Coval moving so that the visuals are as fluid as the language. At less than an hour, the play has room to expand. L-Vis’s climb to the top is chronicled in depth, but his later downward spiral and conversion to Islam happen so quickly that their impact isn’t fully felt.

This page was migrated to our new look automatically. Let us know if anything looks off at feedback@timeout.com