Last night, I had the good fortune of seeing A Sucker Emcee at the Labyrinth Theatre. Craig muMs Grant — rap artist, poet, playwright, actor (Oz) — performs a rap/poetry/dramatic monologue. Rich Medina provides key support as a DJ; though silent throughout, he creates conversation with muMs and serves as chorus to the play. A Sucker Emcee is at once very new and very old. And it is because it very much dwells in this paradox that it is an extremely powerful, honest, and wrenching evening of theatre.
I consciously used the term “chorus” above because muMs and his director Jenny Koons craft something very elemental here. Before Thespis stepped before an audience as something other than himself, theatre was a poet and a musician weaving a tale on stage. The music is hip-hop; the theatricality is elemental, primal, old when the Dionysia. If you don’t think that such an old form has relevance to the modern theatrical sensibility, go to Labyrinth and be amazed.
muMs tells the story of his life, his artistic life, how he came to be a poet, a rapper, an emcee. It is a life of triumphs and tragedies, mistakes comic and painful, good times turned bad and bad times turned good — because it is a life. The poet came of age in the Bronx in the late 70’s and 80’s. He touches on how his youth intersected with the birth of hip-hop. In so doing, he fits very much into that vein of American poetry that finds its home at that intersection of the personal and the political, the historic sweep of a nation or community and the closely observed moment of the individual. Walt Whitman and Langston Hughes, William Carlos Williams and Allen Ginsberg, Frank O’Hara and James Baldwin would welcome muMs into their clubhouse with open arms.
It is the great paradox — its magic, its genius, its madness — that the more specific a work is, the more universal it is. James Joyce’s Ulysses testifies to that wonder. When you sit in the dark and are caught in the rhythm and rhyme of the performance, you cannot help but be carried away to a place of emotional truth caught floating on the rushing current of the elegance and rawness of his verse. muMs’ family is not your family, muMs’ struggles are not your struggles — and yet you recognize your family, your struggles in the frenzy of his poetry. It is a supremely human moment that only theatre can provide. What hits home is the extreme humanity of this gifted compassionate man who wrestled with his fears and became the artist of authenticity that he wanted to be.
Go. Be amazed.