As Pinnacle, Verb, and Peep discover, those lines cut across — and can sever — even old friendships. “We are in a moment in America where we cannot hide anymore,” noted “Hype Man” cinematographer and co-director John Oluwole ADEkoje during the midday conversation. “There is no neutral, and it is our job — specifically white folks — to dismantle this white supremacist notion, system,” added Shawn LaCount, the play’s director and co-director of the hybrid production, who identifies as white.
Thanks to the presence of Peep, the play also brings up issues of sexism and misogyny in hip-hop. “Why is it OK for him to say all this horrible stuff about women, but he can’t say something about justice?” Peep asks Verb in the play. “The word of the day of every day is intersectionality,” Cognata said in an interview. “And how we live at these crossroads of different identities.”
The newest and youngest member of the group, Peep is “still finding her journey of what that means being a woman in this male-dominated space,” Cognata explained. “She is watching Verb and Pinnacle have these strong opinions about a very specific subject. When she substitutes in something else — gender — it’s hard for people to see” that the issues are the same.
“We see this now in the Black Lives Matter movement,” she continued. “As soon as you say Black trans lives matter, you have divisions. You hear ‘We don’t want to divert attention from what this movement is really about.’ But that is an intersection that people live at. That’s a very relevant and integral piece of the play.”
The newcomer to the trio, Peep also inadvertently steps on some fault lines — sparking a long-lasting dispute between the two men and acting almost as a surrogate for the audience. It’s a role Cognata savors. “Some people might identify with Verb’s character, and some people might find some of the points made by Pinnacle more their experience. Peep is really trying to listen,” she said. “She’s really trying to suss out all of the layers and all of the aspects of a very complicated system.”
Having an on-stage stand-in for the audience is all the more vital because of the current production’s online status. Adapting to a streaming production after performing live was “very strange,” said Cognata. “A lot of the energy of the show was really participatory, especially when we went to Oberon [in 2019]. So this was a very different type of energy. Because we’ve done this show for so long, we know the energy that we want a certain moment to have.”
As ADEkoje detailed, it was also in some ways freeing. “I remember watching this show — it stayed with me. I want to cinematically grab that same energy.” With the addition of animation and split screens, he was able to incorporate film effects into the straightforward play. “The goal was to bring people onstage and put them in the middle of the stage,” he said. “Even though you’re trying to get the same feeling, the way you get there is different.”