Metro Weekly

Word Smiths

Performers Steve Connell and Sekou (tha misfit) together walk the edge of something brave, daring and different in 'The World Begins'

It’s hard to say what’s tougher about Steve Connell and Sekou (tha misfit)’s two-man show, The Word Begins — the raw-to-bleeding wordplay, the street-hard posturing or the questions the show raises. What is certain is that when word begins to spread about The Word Begins, Signature’s ARK Theatre will experience a seat-filling flood of audience members.

One hopes that those audiences will be as richly diverse and energized as the ideas and styles that comprise the show itself. A savvy blend of slam poetry, blue comedy, music and poignant multimedia images, The Word Begins tackles love, hate, sex, racism and — as the title suggests — religion at a breakneck pace.

Done less well such a piece would risk exhausting the audience. Done with less solid a foundation and intelligence it would dissolve into a preachy and strained ballad. Instead, Connell and Sekou have created something that manages to provoke and inspire. Nothing is unconsidered and, despite all appearances to the contrary, nothing exists outside the pair’s razor sharp choreography.

The show hits the ground with Connell and Sekou letting loose a torrent of spoken word. Gifted together with a great chemistry and separately with a sense of timing and rhythm that provides their speeches an infectious beat, the two drop in and out of one another’s lines accenting their poetry with an almost orchestral dynamic. It’s a strategy that makes perfect sense for a show that continuously reminds us that ”In the beginning there was the Word and the Word was made flesh.”

From there the audience is carried through a performance where the duo morph and transform as needed to make their own words flesh. An angry young black man brandishing a gun makes demands that, we soon realize, are no more or less threatening than those made by an angry white man wielding a Bible. A posing and preening ”Wigger,” insisting that he is actually black despite the color of his skin is dismissed by a black intellectual who can’t understand why he would want to be. A comedian in an eye-searing lime-green blazer, after reciting his haiku to oral sex, sits down with a hardcore gangsta rapper and engages in what becomes a dangerous discussion about misogyny.

In one of the show’s most thought-provoking movements, Connell and Sekou recall the drizzly Tuesday morning when, after a great deal of searching, they found God. He’s driving a Greyhound bus because no one will publish him anymore. It’s this kind of creativity that quickly causes you to realize that these writer/poet/actors are no ordinary talent. They are both walking the edge of something brave, daring and different.

However, as brilliantly performed as all the characters and sketches are, Connell and Sekou are perhaps most transfixing when it appears that they are playing no one other than themselves. When it seems very clear that the questions they are posing, the anger they feel, the hope they possess and the struggle they are engaged in is their own.

To Dec. 2
Signature Theatre
4200 Campbell Ave.
Arlington, Va.

It connects the two men to the audience in a real and important way. It makes the philosophical journey they are taking a shared one. Instead of being able to sit comfortably back and await a final verdict, a resolution which the performers tie up in a neat and tidy bow, Connell and Sekou make it very clear that everyone must be involved. Everyone must be part of the solutions just as we are all, in ways writ small and large, part of the ongoing problems.

The Word Begins is a performance ideally suited for Signature’s ARK Theatre space. Smartly breaking boundaries and boldly defying conventions, Connell and Sekou’s work has been given room to breathe and, as rebellious as the show is, a well-respected space to fill with thoughts, ideas and their incredible talent.