Written by Baba Brinkman; Directed by Darren Lee Cole
Off Broadway, Solo Show
Runs through 3.1.15
SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street
by Shani R. Friedman on 1.19.15
Baba Brinkman in Rap Guide To Religion. Photo by Rudy Miller .
BOTTOM LINE: Canadian playwright and rap singer Baba Brinkman has created a one-of-a-kind solo showcase for his thought provoking and funny take on religion that will engage both the devout and the non-believer.
Brinkman is a seemingly unlikely rapper, hailing from a middle-class household from the other side of the border. He’s also white, college-educated and the product of still-married parents. As a staunch atheist, his choice of subject matter is more than curious.
Brinkman’s longstanding fascination with religion has led him to create a lively rap concert/comedy performance/TED Talk mash up in which he examines the origins and evolution of religious thought and how it co-exists with today’s celebrity and social-media driven culture. He kicks the evening off with "Religion Evolves" and lays out his premise: that thousands of years ago, religion sprung not from God but out of circumstances, a need for community and wanting to make sense of the unknown. “Two or three religions are founded ever day, and like rap artists,” he jokes, “they probably won’t be around in a decade.”
Hollywood, of course, is an easy and entertaining target. Brinkman shows clips of Matthew McConaughey, Jay-Z and his countryman Justin Bieber giving heartfelt thanks to the Almighty in their respective recent awards speeches. “There is a unique manifestation of religion amongst celebrities, but only when they win. They seem to share a sincere concept of faith that God has hooked them up.” He has his own brush with fame moment when he is honored by the National Center for Science Education (a “creationist watchdog that monitors the separation of church and state in school) with a “Friend of Darwin” Award. Upon learning that he’d been selected, his first thought, he cracks, is “what if I thank God in that speech?”
Late in the show Brinkman confesses to recently “joining a cult,” becoming a parent to his now 13-month-old daughter. It’s here that the heavily researched show that’s been peer reviewed by a number of scientists gives way to a more personal, poignant contemplation of beliefs, culture and legacy. The new father shares that his wife, who is Jewish, has been very excited to share her family’s history of struggle and survival over persecution. It leads him to do a little investigating of his own tree. He discovers that he is descended from a passel of ministers, going back to his great-great-great grandfather. Andy Murray was a Scottish Presbyterian minister who begot over 8000 offspring.
As a practicing Jew, I didn’t feel judged or ridiculed for my long-held views on God. If anything, I felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of what Brinkman puts into the production and wanted him to slow it down. I think it would have benefited by either expanding the running time or with excising some of the material, such as graphs that, though intriguing, go by very quickly (and about which we didn’t get enough grounding in the studies introduced). I would have enjoyed a bit more of Brinkman’s own stories as well. If you’re looking for a nontraditional, but memorable theatre experience, your brain will get a good workout from this very talented and dynamic artist.
(Rap Guide To Religion plays at SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street through March 1, 2015. Performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8PM and Sunday at 5PM. Tickets are $45. They are available by visiting sohoplayhouse.com.)