Last night, I saw Kane Smego's "Temples of Lungs and Air" at PlayMakers Rep. It is a tour-de-force performance and a potent launch of their 2018-19 season on the theme of "Shifting Ground: Theatre that Moves."
"Temples" is ostensibly a coming-of-age story of a Durham native--white, but partly reared in Black community. For Kane Smego, hip-hop and rap and later spoken word poetry became a lifeline in difficult times. His mastery of these forms and his penetrating insight make this a play that stretches beyond autobiography into an electric confrontation with race in our time.
A supreme poet and rapper, Smego stretches the English language to places unimagined with lines that alternate between staid introspection and rapid-fire fury. His emotional and artistic range is considerable for someone evidently not trained as an actor, and in this, he is assisted with dynamite lighting and projections and a set design both funky and functional. Ultimately, it is Smego's authentic presentation of self, along with his witty capacity for imitation, that keeps us consistently engaged. His inherent message of ego transcendence and international embrace is a welcome one in our day when contrary obstinacy seems ascendant. A standing ovation for all those involved in bringing this to the PlayMakers stage!
PS: I must say that, Kane Smego shared the stage briefly with another young performer--Brentton Harrison--who did some great beatboxing and a brief bit of gospel singing. It made me think how I'd like to see the stories of two such young men woven together to more perfectly carry Kane's central them of the inherent unity of Black and White and the power of poetry, rap and hip-hop to cross our cultural chasms.