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`Hip-hop' showcases urban flavor

Kelly's writing exercise evolves into multi-media event

"Hip-Hop Prophets," a play written and directed by UNM senior Ross Kelly, opened Wednesday and will run every night at 7:30 p.m. through Saturday at UNM's Theatre X in the basement of the Fine Arts building.

Kelly has been working on the script for two years. Inspired by the time he spent at a youth hostel in New York City, the play began as an exercise in a dramatic writing class. Since then, it has evolved through a series of drafts into a full-length, multi-media production.

"I wanted to bring something fresh and new to the stage, something that comes from my musical influences and my cultural influences," Kelly said. "I'm mostly an actor, but writing is my background."

Set on the streets of contemporary New York, "Hip-Hop Prophets" is something of a Buddhist morality play - much of it told in rhymed hip-hop chants about two good friends, both artists. One of them, Sean, paints graffiti and is avowed to a state of poverty. The other, Chris, is a young black actor who wants to play the part of Hamlet in a local production. Sean, Chris and a street guru named Ben deliver speeches, have conversations and make philosophical points, but the story itself reflects the rhetorical themes.

The play begins with a speech made by Ben.

"Here we are," Ben says. "Poets of the universe, useless scholars from streets . searching for the greatest of dreams, while praying and preaching among the vultures."

"Hip-Hop Prophets" is packed with rhythmic, poetic monologues and Zen musings. The actors have a solid grasp of urban dialect. It is a play, at its core, about the search for the meaning of expectation. These characters know they are creative; they know what they love to do, but they struggle with the ramifications of why. They have reached a point that often comes in young artist's lives when they realize how much easier it might be if they were normal people, such as stockbrokers or perhaps schoolteachers, and they didn't have to go around questioning everything. But they are artists, for better or worse, and during the course of the play, they realize that they can't turn back. So, the question on which the play spins seems to be this: "What do I, and what should I, expect?"

This is what good hip-hop music does and is what Kelly is showing by bringing hip-hop to Theatre X. What "Hip-Hop Prophets" lacks in subtlety, it makes up for in exuberance, passion and rage.

His upcoming production has several valuable assets. The gutsy writing, a live DJ and the multicultural cast combine for high-energy performance. Clifford Endo Althouse plays Sean, Curtis Childs exudes wisdom in his role of Ben and Jason Nious plays Chris and electrifies the stage with his powerful voice, easy grace and mellow charisma.

Nious, a UNM senior theater major, is also the leader of the step group Molodi, which will warm up the stage for several of the "Hip-Hop Prophets" performances.

Tickets for the play are still available at and at UNM ticket offices.

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