- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Hip-Hop Creation Myth.”

It’s a hare-raisingly entertaining show written and directed by D.C. hip-hop artist Psalmayene 24 and featuring a main character who is a natural successor to the wisecracking coolness of Bugs Bunny.

Clever rapper Zomo (Baye Harrell, adroitly playing a rascal with an upright side) is plagued not by the likes of Elmer Fudd and Wile E. Coyote, but by his conscience. After being “dissed and dismissed” by a barnyard clique, Zomo seeks the help of the Sky God (a composed and radiant Tuyet Thi Pham, who reveals comedic chops in a bit where she performs “Flamingo-yoga” at a downtown studio) who says she will make him powerful.

First, Zomo must bring the Sky God three things: the magic dancing shoes of Big Fish (the abundantly talented Paige Hernandez); the aerosol paint cans of graffiti artist Wild Cow (James J. Johnson); and the turntables of beat maestro Leopard (Jjana Valentiner, oozing attitude as a DJ passionate about her work).

Zomo employs his wits and witty rhymes to trick the threesome out of their most treasured possessions. He soon finds that gaining power through cunning is not all it’s cracked up to be and that supremacy is lonely. However, by sharing the talents of the three animals - dance, art and rhythm - Zomo creates something much more vibrant and positive, which is none other than hip-hop.

Some of the aspects of turning African lore into contemporary street culture seem like a stretch, but Psalmayene 24 shows an abundance of creativity and bigheartedness in his rapping dialogue and his evocation of the District as a hip-hop paradise.

Through the magic of Ethan Sinnott’s comic-strip set, which recalls pop artist Roy Lichtenstein in its panel-bursting frames of color and superhero perspective, Washington’s familiar landmarks - the National Zoo, Metro, cherry blossoms, the waterfront and Adams Morgan - have never looked hipper and more youthful.

Miss Hernandez’s choreography, especially in the sublimely wriggly Big Fish number (where she dances like an aquatic Beyonce, doing - what else? - variations on the swim) is equally high-energy and distinctive, evoking awe and happy giggles from the elementary-school-age audience. Sound designer Nick Hernandez provides a dynamic sampling of hip-hop music that is infectious and not hard-core enough to alarm parents.

Hip-hop may not be your scene, but the life lessons and liveliness imparted by Psalmayene 24’s work makes beat boys and girls of us all.

….

WHAT: “Zomo the Rabbit: A Hip-Hop Creation Myth,” written and directed by Psalmayene 24

WHERE: Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Ave., Bethesda

WHEN: 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through March 8; also at 7 p.m. Feb. 28 and March 7, and 1:30 p.m. Feb. 16

TICKETS: $10 to $21

PHONE: 301/280-1660

WEB SITE: www.imaginationstage.org

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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