by Veronica Louis
Sal Capone, written by Omari Newton and directed by Diane Roberts, is the epitome of the successful play. From the very first moment, even before entering the theatre space (where the audience is greeted by an eccentric prologue) to the very last (a touching climatic ending), the audience is taken on a journey and transported into a magical world of underground hip-hop where visible minority youth tackle all-too-real issues.
Sal Capone tells the story about a young group of underground hip-hop artists about to launch their career when tragedy strikes. The play deals with a myriad of complex issues such as racial identity, police brutality, homosexuality and general youth angst. The issues of the play are not forced. The play is not a public service announcement trying to shove a message down throats. Instead, accomplished director Roberts, allow the message to flow naturally through the characters. The characters are who they are… they are loud, rowdy and cannot keep their mouths shut.
It’s been a while since I have seen a play where I was completely submersed in the material and hanging on to every line in fear of missing a word. This is a play where every word counts. Veteran-actor Newton did an excellent job at writing a play where all the words were poignant and deliberate. The lines in this play are stripped from pretense and flow back and forth like a hectic yet dazzling squash match. And while they may be hilarious, they reflect a dark reality that is far too overlooked in mainstream media… They reveal societal hypocrisy and injustice.
Montreal-born Newton wrote what he knew and understood, making the play a genuine reflection of issues that visible minority youth are talking about. Like its characters, the play Sal Capone, is the opposite of mainstream. Every character is unique and does not fit into a typecast. Jewel, is a Filipina rap artist who identifies and embodies the black hip-hop culture. Besides her own confusion with her racial identity she struggles with being a female hip-hop artist in a world dominated by egocentric males.
Actress Kim Villagante, explains how she understood her character all too well. “When I was 13, I was confused. In Canada, Filipinos are not surrounded by their culture, so all we can do is reflect what we can actually see. So I embraced the whole hip-hop culture completely.” Villagante shone on stage as she commended attention and embodied a firecracker character. The rest of the ensemble Tristan D. Lalla, Jordan Waunch, Letitia Brookes and Billy Merasty were equally brilliant and intense. Interestingly, the actors composed their own raps to the beats designed by Troy Slocum. This cast was an extraordinary talented tight group who thoroughly understood their characters and the complex universe they lived in.
Unfortunately, Sal Capone was on stage only for three weeks in Montreal (October 23-November 10), but Roberts says that they are taking it to Vancouver in May 2014. Hopefully, it will tour across Canada where many more will have the privilege of experiencing brutally honest and compelling theatre.