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Rapping musical tackles urban issues

By Jean Lowerison | Theater Review 

“Wind in the Breeze” is a fresh musical for this generation

The concrete bridge over the Rock River may be broken, seldom used or no longer open to the public, but it appears to be Sam’s favorite hangout. He especially likes to be there on July 4, when it makes a great viewing spot for Rockford, Illinois’ fireworks.

He sits in a lawn chair on the bridge, listening to music on headphones. Sam (Terrell Donnell Sledge), urban poet and philosopher, can invent a mean rap rhyme on the spot, but seems to have retired from chasing fame in the music world, despite the fact that friends describe him as “the best emcee around.”

Sam (Terrell Donnell Sledge) meets his friends on the bridge to discuss his future as a rapper (Photos courtesy of Carli Cadel/Cygnet Theater)

Rob Lutfy directs Cygnet Theatre’s world premiere of Nathan Alan Davis’ “The Wind and the Breeze” through June 10.

It’s on this bridge that Sam meets his friends, musical and otherwise. First up this day is 40-something no-nonsense cop Ronda (played with relish by Monique Gaffney), acerbic of tongue and short of patience, who depends on Sam for her supply of Virginia Slims.

The rest of Sam’s friends are African American rappers like him, but a decade younger and still hanging tenaciously onto that dream of recording fame. Shantell (Demetrius Clayton) seems to be more driven than the others. When he’s not working the grill table at McDonalds, he’s angling for recording time in Atlanta.

Tea (Cortez L. Johnson) is extremely casual of appearance (in fact, his jeans seem about to depart the scene the whole time) and not much of a rapper (“You suck” is the way Sam puts it), but he makes up in enthusiasm what he lacks in talent.

Nia (Chaz Shermil) is young, pregnant and ready for anything, especially if it involves music.

Ana (Nadia Guevara) is a beautiful woman and a fine singer. She really hopes to make a living in music and is ready for a new start.

The cast is uniformly excellent. Sledge, as the central character Sam, is engaging and also does most of the heavy lifting. Also impressive is local favorite Monique Gaffney’s no-nonsense cop Ronda. The other characters are a bit like satellites that revolve around Sam.

Buyer beware: “The Wind and the Breeze” is not for all audiences. The playwright has said upfront that while he frequently writes plays that tackle issues, this is not one of them. “Wind” leaves out a lot of backstory about these folks and doesn’t even pretend to give us a traditional plot. No sudden reveals here; no wrapping up the play with a nice bow.

“Wind in the Breeze” is more a meditation on how and when to content yourself with what you are and have. (I might have tossed in this quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln: “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”)

Sean Fanning’s set design of the bridge with overhanging trees and a cityscape in the background works well. Shirley Pierson’s costumes, R. Craig Wolf’s lighting and Steven Leffue’s sound design are unobtrusive, as they should be.

If you are like me, with ears not attuned to the sound and rhythms of rap, you may be bewildered by this play, even missing many of the words. But if you’re ready for something completely different, you might want to give “The Wind and the Breeze” a whirl.

— Jean Lowerison is a long-standing member of the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle and can be reached at infodame@cox.net.

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