Hip-Shot: The N Word?

Wonderbox, 629 New York Ave NW

Remaining Performances:

Friday, July 22nd at 8 p.m.
Saturday, July 23rd at 3 p.m.
Sunday July 24th at 7 p.m.

They Say: “Four friends’ emotional boundaries are tested when their varied views and opinions on the N-word are shared. This heated, informative and passionate debate is delivered through thought provoking dialogue, spoken word and song. This progressive drama will touch your consciousness.”

Emery’s Take: I saw this show in a crowd full of mostly high school students, and the material seemed tailor-made for them. Loud and obnoxious, there was nothing pleasant about the Da Mighty Productions’ presentation of The N Word? Besides a stirring rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a.k.a. “The Black National Anthem” at the beginning of the performance, little else was accomplished.

Narrated by the dapper-dressed Howard (played by Terrance Da Comedian), the play features a one-dimensional foursome: Miles, (Larie Edwards) the dedicated yet super critical family man; Paul (Just Joe) the gearhead who’s a maestro at fixing cars but who can’t seem to see the benefits of certification in his profession; and Sam (Linda Ellitot), the only woman in the group, who is characterized as a having “a bunch of men and a ton of money” but no job. Finally, Hollis (Derrick Johnson) is the crew’s “ol’ head”, the wise and oft-maligned older gentleman, who’s the only one willing to seriously discuss the main subject of the play: the differentiation between the words nigga and nigger, the entitlement expressed by of the users of these words, and ultimately whether they should be used at all.

The intent is honorable, but as the old adage goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Writer/director Quinn Alston stressed before and after the show that this topic was one in need of serious discussion. The 15-minute postshow Q&A was not only to be the most productive portion of the evening, but also the most entertaining. A District public school teacher criticized the use of the word as simple “subversive language,” while an Asian-American girl raised her hand when our host asked who among of us would condone using its use. That exchange turned out to be hilarious, as Howard used his skill as a comedian to lighten up a bored crowd.

The evening left me thinking of one of hip-hop’s greatest groups, also the subject of the currently-in-release documentary film, Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest. Tribe’s song “Sucka Nigga,” from their 1993 album Midnight Marauders, manages to do in a few simple lines what The N Word? could not in 55 minutes: explore a controversial topic with the nuance and depth it deserves.

See, nigga first was used back in the Deep South
Fallin out between the dome of the white man’s mouth
It means that we will never grow, you know the word dummy
Other niggas in the community think it’s crummy
But I don’t, neither does the youth cause we
em-brace adversity it goes right with the race
And being that we use it as a term of endearment
Niggas start to bug to the dome is where the fear went
Now the little shorties say it all of the time
And a whole bunch of niggas throw the word in they rhyme
Yo I start to flinch, as I try not to say it
But my lips is like the oowop as I start to spray it
My lips is like a oowop as I start to spray it
My lips is like a oowop as I start to spray it…

(Lyrics provided by www.ohhla.com)

See it if:You are willing to speak up when asked.

Skip it if: You are not a fan of moral victories.