Since there’s only one performance left of Gentri-Fire (Saturday, 7:30 p.m.), you might want to get a ticket soon. It’s a sometimes one-sided but energetic, magnetic and fierce look at the phenomenon of gentrification, showcasing spoken word artists.
As people filed into the performance space at 17 E. Court St. on Wednesday night, they were directed to sit on folding chairs in a circle around the stage space. Others had chairs on risers. Turned out, those in the circle were almost immediately — willingly or unwillingly — part of the performance.
Two cast members playing official types moved to the center of the circle, as if they were in a neighborhood meeting. They extolled the virtues of gentrification: a reduction in crime, the reduction of poverty. Questions? They asked, but quickly moved on, leaving no time for anyone to ask or protest.
Next, audience members in the circle were instructed to stand and move around the circle as music played then to find a seat when the music stopped. As we walked, our chairs were whisked away, so that when everyone was directed to sit, there were not enough chairs. This musical-chairs maneuver was repeated, each time with more and more people left without a place, evoking what it must feel like to be a pawn of economic development. Eventually, the chairs were replaced, and series of poets strutted their stuff.
Since the ’70s poets such as Gil Scott-Heron (“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”) have used spoken word for frank commentary on political and social subjects. On this count, the Gentri-Fire cast delivered.
To music, the one young man rhymed that you “don’t wanna play with me,” advised to “shed your skin, take you places you never been,” to a refrain of “burn, baby, burn,” to which we were prompted to add “ashes to ashes.” A woman spoke of a “massive land grab” sold to the public, disadvantageous to the working poor and benefiting greedy corporations. Another woman asked, “Do you know? What they did? They raped me.” Though beaten down, she answered her refrain by rhyming how she wouldn’t let it damage her esteem, that she would create her own education.
Sometimes there was music. Sometimes there was a slapping, clapping beat. Sometimes there was a singing tone. Some of the poems were cynical, some hopeful. Most definitely, there was a cultural presence.
But, what registered most strongly was the communal impact of theatrical story-telling poetry. Black preachers traditionally involve their congregations using a call-and-response style, and it seemed as though many who watched this often-mesmerizing show had a sense of the shared experience that was evoked by the performers.
The program ran short of its predicted 75 minutes, due to equipment problems with video projections (which were not shown) and other glitches. One hopes they can be fixed by Saturday’s performance of Gentri-Fire.
GENTRI FIRE by The Dream Team (Cincinnati) will be performed 7:30 p.m. June 7 at 17 E. Court St.