Reviewed by Cindy PierreThe British duo Floetry became popular in 2002 for their fusion of r&b, soul, neo soul and hip hop. It is this fusion that also defines their namesake. Tack on politics and social activism, and you'll get Rha Goddess (Rhamelle Green), the hip hop artist who allegedly coined the term floetry and who became the inspiration for all who operate within this genre. Rha builds upon this foundation with a portrayal of mental illness in Low:Meditations Trilogy Part 1. However, despite an earnest plea for the prevention and solving of mental disorders with love rather than medication, there are simply too many production flaws for the show to stand firm on its resolve.
Rha portrays rapper-hopeful Lowquesha (Low for short), a seemingly normal girl growing up in a harshly-disciplined, urban household until she draws attention to herself with a classroom confrontation with a teacher. The need for counseling arises, and after a few probing questions to which there are only green flag responses, Low is saddled with a bunch of rash disorder diagnoses and drug prescriptions anyway. She proceeds to make typical teenage mistakes involving sex and rebellion that can be tied to her upbringing, but she also has the added concerns of determining the right combination of pills to take to get her through her days. She doesn't always succeed. Cracks in the formula caused by forgetfulness, economics and negligence cause her behavior and cognition to become erratic, and she steadily gets worse. Violence against her mother during a drug imbalance lands her in jail and in the hospital, and to make matters worse, she suddenly finds herself homeless as a result of her rage. Troublesome before, her life becomes hellish while trying to survive on the street. Her "eviction" inspires "Battle Song", an ode to the anguish she feels towards her mother for kicking her out. And to top it off, she has a sister who's doing well and can't be bothered to help her, a friend who's only down for the good times, and a no-good boyfriend who disappears when she needs him the most.
Through the use of amateurish voice-overs and her own impressions, Rha incorporates several characters into her one-woman show, but they are not always distinct. For instance, when she represents Low's sister in her earlier years, her babyish voice does not deviate from Low's, and this same childish tone survives throughout her teenage years as well. The haphazard lighting design by Sabrina Hamilton does not support the variance in Rha's moods, and always seems one step behind in congruence. Rha is a charming and entertaining performer, but her performance here lacks the training she needs to tackle the density of this piece. She does a good job of illustrating her opinions about the hypocrisy in psychiatry and what is acceptable as a mental illness through her observations and commentary about coffee addicts, but some of her other points are derivative. Under Chay Yew's direction, Rha alienates the audience by spending a good portion of her stage time with her back to them. In addition, there are several instances where her spiral into lunacy is prolonged beyond necessity. However, the scene in which she delivers verse while twitching demands attention. Low's aspirations to become a rapper are explored through several songs, but the efforts are lukewarm. Sister Souljah, another activist and MC, comes to mind as a comparison, but Rha's impression is not as strong. However, I should also note that Sister Souljah does not prescribe to the floetry style of music. The show concludes with a lecture about how the spread of mental disorders is akin to HIV, and some suggestions such as love and understanding to curb the contagion. Although a profound point, it should have been expressed in the play, and not as an afterthought resembling a public service announcement. An earnest effort, this show needs a lot of work before it can start the revolution that it appears to have been designed for.
Through January 20th...THE PUBLIC THEATER
425 Lafayette StreetTickets: $15Click here to order tickets online Or call 212-967-7555 (Mon-Sun, 10AM-9PM)