Sal Capone: The Lamentable Tragedy Of is a powerful play tackling the important issue of police violence against people of colour in Canada, delivered in a the form of an epic, 90-minute hip hop theatre production. It’s a play that has quite a bit to say, and the playwright, Montreal’s Omari Newton, has created a complex and interesting cast of characters that present a multitude of perspectives on violence, prejudice, greed and race.
The story concerns the police shooting of a young DJ, Sam I Am, an event that tears apart a group of hip hop artists as they struggle to cope with what has happened to their friend. The shooting exposes deep divisions between these characters, and the consequences are expertly explored through Newton’s script.
Though the story is fictional, it is meant to reflect real world issues. Newton was inspired to write Sal Capone by the police shooting of Freddy Villanueva in 2008, and has taken steps to connect his play with each audience’s own experience with police violence, changing the script to reflect the history of police violence in each city the play visits.
The Ottawa production is full of references to Abdirahman Abdi, whose death at the hands of police in 2016 on a Hintonburg street is still a source of controversy. The play begins with recordings of news reports related to Abdi’s death and a character references Bridgehead, the scene of the incident that preceded Abdi’s encounter with police violence. These references add weight to the production, challenging its audience to explore their own reactions to police violence.
[Kim Villagante’s] lightning raps are the highlight of the production.
The narrative unfolds through powerful performances by the small cast, especially those of Tristan D. Lalla as Freddie Salazar Jr. and Kim Villagante as Jewel De La Rayas. The show has been touring Canada for almost 10 years, and experience the actors have in these roles shows.
If the script occasionally drags in longer periods of dialogue, the show makes up for it through incredible rap performances courtesy of Lalla and Villagante, backed by well-chosen and composed beats by sound designer Troy Slocum, as well as a memorable beatboxing performance by Jordan Waunch (playing Chase Stagnetti).
Musically, Sal Capone is a triumph.
Musically, Sal Capone is a triumph. Lalla’s voice is powerful and his flow is poetic and strong. Villagante is a seasoned hip-hopper in her own right, having released albums under the name Kimmortal. Her lightning raps are the highlight of the production.
The show is framed by the dynamic performance of Troy Emery Twigg as the sex worker Shaneyney, whose omniscient presence helps to add context and meaning to the scenes as they unfold, implicating the audience in the auction through direct address.
Throughout, Sal Capone is a strong statement. It sheds light on police violence against people of colour and demands dialogue. It is held together with exceptional hip hop performances and a compelling narrative.
Sal Capone: The Lamentable Tragedy Of is playing at the National Arts Centre (1 Elgin St) until April 21. Tickets cost $46 online and at the NAC Box Office. Live Rush tickets are available for anyone ages 13–29 on the same day as the performance.