Review: The world premiere of The Realness: A Break Beat Play at MRT

Angelica Potter

OnStage Massachusetts Critic


LOWELL, MA - After the success of his first break beat play, How We Got On, playwright Idris Goodwin has brought us again into the world of hip-hop with his new work: The Realness: A Break Beat Play. Set during the school year of 1996 and 1997 it follows a student named T.O. as he explores the world of hip-hop, questions his identity, and falls in love with an MC. Before we get to the play itself you may be wondering: what exactly is a break beat play? Break beat plays contain similar elements to those found in hip-hop music. Just as an MC would lay rhymes over a hip-hop beat, this play is underscored by beats. Goodwin’s play is not geared just towards those who know, understand and love hip-hop; it is also meant for those who enjoy a good story or like to laugh. It’s for those who remember what it’s like when you’re young and falling in love. And, finally, it’s for those who have ever been inspired by an artist, in any medium, and have felt the world disappear when they watch him or her do what they do best.

Photo: Terrell Donnell Sledge, Diomargy Nunez. Photo by Meghan Moore.

Photo: Terrell Donnell Sledge, Diomargy Nunez. Photo by Meghan Moore.

As mentioned earlier, this story’s central character is a young man named T.O. who is wonderfully portrayed by Terrell Donnell Sledge. His authentic and likeable character had the audience rooting for him from the start. Over the entire 90 minute production, I don’t recall him leaving the stage once; due to the fact that when he was not involved in a scene he was narrating and guiding the audience through the story. Throughout, he was steadfast and brought both heart and laughter to the production. 
Prima, a MC & love interest of T.O., was terrifically played by Diomargy Nuñez. Her multiple rap sections were supremely done and her interactions with T.O. showed both the independent and sweet sides of her character. Joy Hooper played Professor Brown, who guided T.O. down his path of further discovery of hip-hop and himself. She also played a few very different supporting characters and all were well performed. Jessie Prez also played a number of supporting characters in addition to his main role as Roy, a friend of Prima and fellow MC. While his characterizations were great, his rapping was where he really shined.  Segun Akande played Lord Style, mentor to Prima and a rapper who makes it big. His characterization of Lord Style was dynamic and interesting to watch over the course of the production. He, like Prez, also shined when rapping. Overall, the cast had great chemistry and brought wonderful energy to their characters and this story. 

While the cast was great, I also must mention the incredible set designed by Lee Savage. In short, it is a giant wall of speakers from the 1960s to the 1990s collected from patrons of MRT. Enhanced with lighting by Brian J. Lilienthal, this wall of speakers was the perfect design for this play. Add in the sound design by Joshua Horvath and it completes the package of a well done production.  

Remarkably directed by Wendy C. Goldberg The Realness: A Break Beat Play is on stage at Merrimack Repertory Theatre until April 10th. Tickets range from $60-$23. To purchase tickets or find more information check out or call 978-654-4678.

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