Encore Michigan

Theatre Nova’s “Spin” is a hopeful antidote to Orlando tragedy

Review June 18, 2016 David Kiley

ANN ARBOR, Mich.–Sometimes a play doesn’t meet expectations based on the advance billing. And sometimes that doesn’t matter because the play, the story, manages to touch the heart and mind in ways that you couldn’t have anticipated.

 Spin, a new play by Detroiter Emilio Rodriguez, is billed as a “hip-hop love story.” Though I was anticipating more actual hip-hop in the story, it doesn’t matter. The story, about two teens in an LGBTQIA homeless shelter, bonding and making a connection that is crucial to their souls, hearts and mental health, is an antidote to the grief most of us are feeling over the victims of the Orlando mass killing in an LGBTQIA nightclub.

Mila (Matthew Webb), a tough, muscular, dominant young man, who is the offspring of a black father he never met and a Latina mother, favors his father’s race in his appearance, doesn’t speak Spanish, but identifies as Latino. He is already in the shelter when newcomer, Angelo (José Martinez), becomes his roommate. Angelo is a softer, effeminate gay teen, compared with Mila, who is so coarse in the early going of the story that we almost forget he is gay as he throws anti-gay epithets at Angelo like darts.

The story is almost about nothing, as there is not much of a dramatic arc to follow. But it is also about everything. These young men have nothing–except their love of people who are no longer in their lives, the fleeting connections they make in the here and now of the shelter, and their identity. Spin could be interpreted to be simply about survival through expressing one’s art–as in Angelo’s poetry and rap, finding a way to be needed of not always wanted and the tenderness that is to be found in a person when their wall is broken down by a caring heart.

Director Kennikki Jones cast the young men well. Mr. Webb is tough and hard, but he makes transitions to tender and vulnerable, and back to hard in a way that is very believable and easy to watch. Mr. Martinez has another journey to make–figuring out how to assert himself and stand firm despite being the submissive on stage. The chemistry between the two actors, and characters, grows nicely over the course of the 85-minute play. And there is plenty of smart dialogue that gives the audience plenty of opportunity to laugh as we come to care about these two tragic kids, chucked out of the homes they were born to. There is always humor in hardship, and Mr. Rodriguez has a gift for finding it and making it feel natural.

The set, designed by Daniel C. Walker, is simple in the Theatre Nova small space. The bedroom of the shelter is cheap looking as it should be. It fades in the light when Angelo is in a performance space to recite his poetry. A window at the back of the set serves as an escape hatch for Mila.

I don’t know exactly what I was expecting from a “hip-hop” love story, but Spin is really just a love story with a bit of hip-hop mixed in to help the story of two young men we care about…a lot. We care so much, and the story seems to leave so much on the table, that perhaps Mr. Rodriguez ought to consider a sequel, or even a trilogy.

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