A big hit at last year’s Fringe Festival, and now comfortably ensconced in the ultra-hip Zipper Factory space, where you’re actively encouraged to bring drinks to your plush, ripped-out minivan seat, the self-proclaimed “gay rap opera” BASH’d is earnest, modestly clever and confused in just about equal measure. It’s written and performed by Chris Craddock and Nathan Cuckow, who take to the stage with high spirits and audience-savvy charm, making everyone comfortable with the concept of rapping; they advise us that you just have to listen a little closer to hear everything, then invoke Shakespeare before turning to a tale of “star-crossed” male lovers in Canada who meet, marry and come to grief.
Cuckow is initially called “Feminem,” even though it’s Craddock who really looks like and suggests the controversial (and now almost forgotten?) Eminem, who used to be all over the airwaves airing his psychotherapy sessions in verse and “cleaning out [his] closet.” “A few years ago, Jonny McGovern did a loosey-goosey show at the Kraine Theatre called The Wrong Fag to Fuck With, in which he playfully dismantled Em’s dodgy homophobia and secret yearnings. That show, informal though it was, caught some of the wit, and ambivalence toward homosexuality, in a lot of rap music, whereas BASH’d is more concerned with using rap as a simple counterpoint to a sappy and then troublingly unresolved story.
We briefly see the history of two boys, Jack and Dillon, also played by Craddock and Cuckow. Dillon lives in a small town and has the usual trouble with his macho father and dithery mother, while Jack is a liberated gay kid with two gay dads who send him out to bars with condoms and ecstasy and a final warning against crystal meth. There follows a lively but very standard gay bar scene, where our two troubadours enact closeted chicken hawks, dumb twinks, sad fag hags, sturdy lesbians and let-it-all-hang-out bears. The few moments when they play bears actually suit Craddock and Cuckow much more than all the romantic melodrama between the young boys that follows.
The boys meet and get married, idyllically; even Dillon’s father comes to the wedding and seems won over. Here Craddock and Cuckow are playing with powerfully charged elements thanks to the recent court decision in favor of gay marriage in California, and it’s clear that the gay men in the Zipper audience are shyly excited about the prospect they’re witnessing on stage. After the marriage, though, Jack gets brutally assulted and Dillon seeks revenge on straight guys in general, just as gay guys in general have been targeted. These plot points are all very rushed, and the rap music’s constant need to move forward certainly doesn’t help the lack of character development.
In its program, BASH’d has a lengthy ad supporting the Anti-Violence Project, an organization created in 1980 to stem the tide of anti-gay bias attacks, yet the most interesting scene in the play occurs when Jack and Dillon go to a meeting for hate-crime victims and are counseled by well-meaning but condescending and impotent social workers. The Bonnie and Clyde-esque climax leaves a question that can’t be answered: when does defending yourself become aimless aggression? This one-hour drama in rap can’t begin to deal with this particular can of worms, and it ends with Tony Kushner-style angel wings and a queasy call to think about…what? Revenge? Homophobia? Gay marriage? Craddock and Cuckow perform with energy and abandon, but this is a very incomplete piece of theater.