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Fort Fringe – Bedroom
Remaining performances: Sunday, July 15, 1:45 p.m. Thursday, July 19, 7 p.m. Saturday, July 21, 4 p.m. Monday, July 25, 7 p.m. Sunday, July 29, 6:30 p.m.
They say: “A raw and intimate look inside the mind of the poetically chaotic and often controversial rap legend. This explosive one-man performance depicts the late rapper as a modern day Shakespearean, tragic figure.”
Brooke’s Take: In life, Tupac Shakur was a complex, polarizing figure. In death, he’s become infamous, a rapper whose legacy is one of violence and poetry, and whose murder in a drive-by shooting has never been solved. (When informed that I was writing this review, my mother, a first-grade teacher in southwest Georgia, said, “Tupac! I know him! He hangs out with Elvis now.” So yeah, infamous.)
Raised by his mother and step-father, who were both active in the Black Panthers, Shakur had a worldview that was shaped by perceiving and opposing injustice, and his talent was undeniable. He often rapped with a social consciousness, though the music he released near the end of his life embraced gangsta life and club beats more. His legacy is that of the poet/thug, and he was a volatile figure whose more progressive songs belied his proneness to violent outbursts. In Right to Remain, Shakur says ideas are more powerful than guns, and both are key to understanding the man. He wrote “Keep Ya Head Up” and “Dear Mama,” two songs that explicitly address and encourage women in the black community, but as this one-man play opens, we find Shakur in a prison cell serving what would ultimately be 11 months for a 1993 sexual assault conviction. (Shakur always maintained his innocence.)
Right to Remain, which is written and performed by Maryland actor Meshaun Labrone, addresses this complicated relationship with women and recasts Shakur as a man driven to a life of gangbanging by the justice system, by the women who ignored him until he embraced the street life and started selling records, by a country that systemically oppresses him and his peers. Which is not to say that this is 70 minutes of bitching and moaning. Labrone’s Shakur is fierce, wry and clever, magnetic while drawing connections between himself and Richard III.
The conflation of Shakespeare with Shakur’s view of himself and the world is a fascinating structural linchpin, and one that works. When he recounts how girls didn’t want to date him in high school because he was too nice, he aligns himself with the literary villain, whom he deems a thug in his own right. “Because he can’t get love, he will unleash hell.” And then later, with a chuckle. “And then he goes and gets the chick!” This reveals an insight into Shakur, but also a sharply observed insight into the motivations of one of Shakespeare’s greatest characters. Labrone draws other connections: As his Shakur notes at one point, how different are, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears,” and “Holler if you hear me”? or “Give me liberty or give me death” and “Fuck the police”?
Labrone’s range is impressive; in addition to Shakur, he temporarily inhabits the women and men who played important roles in Shakur’s life. Though Right to Remain covers serious dramatic territory, Labrone’s comedic timing shines during the brief moments of levity in the script. But the play’s concluding monologue, a rich, powerful piece of theater that mashes up Shakespearean passages with Shakur’s lyrics, starts as a sort of prose poem and ends as a riveting manifesto. As Labrone spits lines from The Merchant of Venice alongside lyrics from “Cradle to the Grave,” the play’s contention that Shakur was a conflicted figure on a Shakespearean scale is literally realized. It’s impossible to look away. All eyes are on Shakur. Or all eyez.
See It If: You’re into Shakespeare as a lens for understanding our times, or find Shakur a character worth exploring.
Skip It If: Rap ain’t your thing.