Thursday, 7 November 2013

SAL CAPONE EXPLORES BEING GAY IN THE WORLD OF HIP HOP


 
The cast of Sal Capone: The Lamentable Tragedy Of (Photo courtesy Black Theatre Workshop)


The debut play by Montreal-born playwright Omari Newton, Sal Capone: The Lamentable Tragedy Of,  is wowing audiences at Montreal’s Black Theatre Workshop. The play tells the tale of gangster hip-hop trio Sal Capone who have a shot at the big time when their gifted DJ, Sammy, is shot nine times by local police on the eve of Sal Capone’s big musical launch. Sammy falls into a coma, leaving his bandmates, rappers Freddy (Tristan D. Lalla) and Jewel (Kim Villagante) and their business manager, Chase (Jordan Waunch), bickering and angry at the police.  

Newton was inspired by the death of Fredy Villanueva, an 18-year-old shot and killed by an officer in an altercation in Montreal North in 2008. In the play, the police shooting of Sammy gives Newton the opportunity to explore the machismo and homophobia of the hip hop world, especially when (SPOILER WARNING) sammy’s friends discover via a First Nations transvestite and hooker (Billy Merasty) that Sammy was gay.
 
The video design by Candelario Andrade is  beautifully staged, the cast is excellent, and actors Tristan D. Lalla and Kim Villagante can rap with the best of them.

When the script focuses on Sammy’s sexual orientation and homophobia in the hip hop community, the play is absolutely riveting.
It reminds me of Terrance Dean, a former MTV executive who lost a lot of friends when he decided to publicly come out as a gay man and write all about it in his terrific 2008 bestselling blind-item filled book Hiding in Hip Hop.


“I wanted to write the book because there is a huge subculture that exists in the entertainment industry and the world is unsuspecting,” Dean tolkd me. “So many of my friends are part of that subculture and are afraid to come out and jeopardize their careers. Homophobia is [also] so ingrained in the black community and within the black church. It’s all about black masculinity. Hip hop is all high testosterone machismo and bravado. In the black community, you cannot be hip hop and be gay. I think the white community is more tolerant of gay people.”

Dean added, “You cannot come into this business openly gay – the business won’t support you. So it will have to be somebody established and well-known. People will be shocked. I think if Queen Latifah came out, it will create a whole new precedent. She’s on the verge.”

Queen Latifah, the Oscar-nominated actress and recording star, told 100,000 people attending her May 2012 concert at the Long Beach Lesbian & Gay Pride Festival in Southern California, that she was happy to be in the presence of “her people” although technically she didn’t actually come out.

The hip-hop closet is explored in Sal Capone: The Lamentable Tragedy Of. While the play doesn’t offer any answers, it asks all the right questions.

Sal Capone: The Lamentable Tragedy Of  by Black Theatre Workshop runs at the MAI Theatre until Nov. 10. Click here for more info and tickets.

Sal Capone: The Lamentable Tragedy Of opens at the Vancouver Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre in May 2014. Click here for more details.

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