Theater review by Aeneas Hemphill
Gordon (NSangou Njikam) dreams of becoming a rapper, but while his teenage classmates have confident flows, he can barely get a word out. Yet he has friends in high places. Njikam’s Syncing Ink, which blends hip-hop and West African performance traditions into a new and exciting theatrical form, begins with a Yoruba ritual in which we learn that Gordon belongs to “the Ancestral line of those who manifest Life with the Rhyme,” a lineage that was broken by his father. With help from friends, family members and teachers, Gordon learns to use his ancestral gift—but must win a freestyle competition to fulfill his cosmic destiny.
Directed by the Flea’s Niegel Smith at the company’s brand-new Sam Cohn Theater space, Syncing Ink seamlessly incorporates music and dance into a cohesive structure that feels all its own. Hip-hop here is spiritual, elemental and integral to the play’s world: It’s in the language, the physicality, the architecture. (DJ Reborn, as the Mutha, sits at a turntable high above the action, a supreme creator whose sound is essential to the action.) Every movement seems like part of a larger whole, as though the characters were navigating a shared rhythm. And when they rap, it has the urgency of life and death.
The Flea Theater (Off Broadway). By NSangou Njikam. Directed by Niegel Smith. With Njikam. Running time: 2hrs 20mins. One intermission. Through Oct 29.