How We Got On
Next up in the 2012 Humana Collection, How We Got On which is stylistically one of the coolest shows I’ve read in a while.
This is a hip-hop show. Written about, written as, it’s fascinating. The four characters are Hank, Julian, and Luann (suburban teenagers trying to make it big in the small city as rappers), and The Selector (a smooth talking late night radio personality waxing philosophical and toasting to Hank, Julian, and Luann). What’s really tight about this script is the formatting. Goodwin calls for repeated lines to be performed in exactly the same tone, as if they’ve been sampled and replayed.
We follow Hank, a young lyricist and would-be rapper trying to make the freshest rhymes he can. Little does he know there’s a new kid on the block (Julian), and it sounds like his rhymes are also pretty fresh. Hank does what he can and challenges Julian to a rap battle. At the appointed time and place Hank allows Julian to go first, which is what you want as an MC, but Julian is so fresh that no one even listens to Hank’s verse.
Hank retreats into his room, swearing off performance, and as he listens to the latest rap tape he realizes Julian plagiarized his verse. It was ALL stolen. Hank confronts Julian and the two set up an uneasy partnership. Hank will write, Julian will perform. They join forces and team up for the upcoming battle of the bands. It’s the best we’ve seen yet, but they lose and Luann, an intellectual young woman who just wants to rhyme, has the answer: they need beats. They can’t just do it a capella.
Hank sets his sights on an Akai MPC, a beat-mixer, and the grand prize for a city-wide rap competition. Hank tries to convince Julian to work on a song with him and Luann but Julian’s father wants him to focus on basketball. Luann tries to impress Julain with her freestyling skills but he just won’t listen and can’t see a dude rapping alongside a girl. Luann takes Hank to the top of the watertower to learn how to freestyle and although he never freestyles as well as Luann he does regain his confidence in rapping.
A short while later after heart-to-hearts with their dads Hank approaches Julian about making the freshest rap in the Hill, but Julian’s moving back to the City. Hank reveals that his dad believed in him and bought him the Akai MPC. It looks like Julian will turn around and say yes and suddenly the conversation starts looping. The Selector toasts us out as the samples become the best rap of the show, beatboxing and all. It’s gorgeous.
This play is slick, thoughtful, and considers form in fun and interesting ways. The narrator works and tells a story in a way that feels both fresh and real and like the sort of thing you’d expect LORTs to do, but you know the Artistic Directors are way too white to know what to do with it.
Would I direct it?
Gimme gimme. I’d pitch it.
Would I watch it?
Yes yes yes yes yes.
Death Tax by Lucas Hnath.
If you’d like to pick up a copy of How We Got On from the Drama Bookshop click here.