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LA Theater Review

'J.O.B. the Hip-Hopera'

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A few artists in the last decade, Danny Hoch most notably, have combined theatre and hip-hop. But collaborators Jerome Sable and Eli Batalion have taken the genre in a direction that should appeal equally to young rap fans and seasoned theatre lovers. Their piece--a 90-minute reworking of a one-hour production that toured the world last year--is filled with intelligent humor, wicked rhymes, catchy music, spirited dance, and a captivating story. There is a five-person dance troupe, a DJ, and a singer, but Sable and Batalion play all of the characters-flip-flopping the roles in the middle of scenes. Co-directors Stefan Novinski and Hassan Christopher (who also serves as choreographer) have deftly melded a concert atmosphere with sophisticated theatre.

J.O.B. retells-with alterations-the biblical stories of Job, and of Cain and Abel. In this version, Job works at Hoover Records, a hip-hop hit-making factory. He is the right-hand man of the president, J. Hoover (read Jehovah). But the company's vice president of finance, Louis Saphire (sounds suspiciously like Lucifer) convinces Hoover to take away all the great things Job has to test his loyalty. Meanwhile, would-be rappers MC Abel and MC Cain are in the basement writing jingles. They hope Job will take them to the top, assuming he can withstand Saphire's test.

Sable and Batalion never miss a line in this rapid-fire nonstop rap while switching characters, which include a large Indian man, a cranky chain-smoking woman, and the ditzy niece of the boss. The dancers are creatively used as placeholders for characters when more than two are in the room. The rest of the time, the troupe members serve as living props that enhance the storytelling. It's the words, though, that are the most exciting element here. Sable and Batalion mix high comedy with lowbrow humor. They show extensive knowledge of music and theatre, referencing several hip-hop artists and other writers. Though the story is well-known, the climax is still surprising. And the manner in which J.O.B. is presented introduces a new and exciting voice in hip-hop theatre.

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