Productions such as “The Laramie Project” and “The Vagina Monologues” stand as a few of today’s most recognizable – and controversial – contemporary dramas. In these shows, the stage functions not as a fictional sphere of escape, but as an outlet for human emotion, a barometer of social progress and a flesh-and-blood blog of everyday life.
Tonight at 8 p.m., the Power Center will bring renowned performer Marc Bamuthi Joseph and his spoken-word performance piece “Word Becomes Flesh,” a multimedia memoir revolving around an unplanned pregnancy and the internal struggle of a single father-to-be.
A National Poetry Slam champion with several appearances on HBO’s “Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry,” under his belt, Joseph has also written two performance pieces, Tony Award-winning “The Tap Dance Kid” and “Stand-Up Tragedy.”
By definition, spoken-word poetry is a form of performance art, and thus an extension of the body. Joseph’s performance pieces are a fusion of bodily and verbal expression, as well as a throwback to orally based dialogue and storytelling.
Self-evolution through adversity, no matter how eloquently expressed, is an inherently amorphous topic. But Joseph leaves behind nothing onstage. The performance is structured as a series of letters to his unborn son, a raw and emotive approach to a simple theme. A trio of bass, drums and guitar accompany Joseph’s letters, expanding the story through rhythm and melody.
“Word Becomes Flesh,” regardless of its intrinsic social commentary, does just what its title proclaims: It tells the story of Joseph’s personal trauma regarding unplanned pregnancy.
“The Vagina Monologues” and “The Laramie Project” have the potential to overwhelm a casual viewer with linguistic reversals of slang, vitriolic announcements of independence and a mass of viewpoints told through a large ensemble of characters.
In comparison, “Word Becomes Flesh” consists of one man and his struggle to come to terms with the hand life has dealt him.
This premise is more intimate, more immediate than the overreaching – but certainly still important – themes presented in “Laramie” and “Monologues.”
“Word Becomes Flesh” takes on an almost epic dimension, chronicling Joesph’s personal and emotional transformation through speech and performance.
While the Gilbert and Sullivan Society, the RC Players, Basement Arts and other prominent student theater groups uphold the image of theater as a grand arena of Shakespeare, magical realism, slapstick comedy and progressive writing, performances such as the “Monologues” and “Laramie” create the biggest buzz because they enlighten, educate, call for social change and transcend the realm of theater as a venue of entertainment.
They are commentaries on the here and now, the vital and the ignored, and this is what the public responds to.
A powerful collaboration of poetry and performance theater, Joseph’s “Word Becomes Flesh” is a must-see. For both the serious and the casual theatergoer, the performance will be more than a treat for the ears and eyes – it’s an example of contemporary theater at its best.
While the ordeal of unplanned pregnancy might not strike everyone as immediate or especially urgent, Joseph’s representation of the human condition – his own – is an experience not to be missed.
Word Becomes Flesh
Tonight at 8 p.m.
At the Power Center