Arts Listings

Theater: Azeem Brings ‘Rude Boy’ to The Marsh

By Ken Bullock, Special to the Planet
Tuesday November 14, 2006

The visitor from New York, who wandered into the Gaia Building lobby by mistake, caught a glimpse of the program for Azeem’s solo show at The Marsh, and said as he left, “I get enough ‘Rude Boy’ at home!” 

But as Azeem performs it in a string of black-out vignettes, it’s not so much in your face as an anatomy of a rough-hewn man (who shows various faces, one Jamaican) getting caught up in the wrong side of the Stateside system. 

Sung, declaimed, rapped, gestured out at the audience, Rude Boy is a sad, loosely episodic tale enacted—or acted out—with humor and high spirits, an attempt to see things from the other side of the social mirror. 

Taking the stage, which is covered with janitorial gear, after sweeping up in the pit, Azeem starts in: “Listen, man, I’m not complaining or nothing,” moving by degrees into the turmoil of surviving street life, mirrored by an inner turmoil and humor—and into a character, Tommy Burke, based on two of Azeem’s late cousins—through tough situations that just seem to erupt, and the institutionalizations that follow.  

Azeem’s like a channel for “hearing voices, not like a murderer hears, but a psychic”—with the disclaimer, “except I’m not psychic.” He uses his expressiveness to slip in and out of character, besides narrating or commenting on what’s happening in a variety of styles. 

The show’s a bunch of vignettes, broken up, but not abruptly, with blackouts. It plays like a series of sketches, and still reads like a work in progress; maybe the rough edges reinforce the rudeness of the characters, its real material. 

The sketches go from the rhymed tirade on identity Azeem delivers, looking down from the desk of a social worker, who has him committed, to the visions of a fellow inmate (“Don’t think you watching TV—TV is watching us”) who only speaks in acronyms and numbers; a dissertation on Anger and his stepsister Sadness, and about Rage and those twins, Reason and Logic; Johnny Burke’s predicaments, which land him in The Hole, the prayer he learned from his cellmate (“a muslim dude—that’s Arab. You learn a lot when you get locked up”); a letter to “The President, Santa Claus, Governor or Mayor—Dear Sir;” and songs, raps and assorted ramblings that form the interlocking soliloquies that blossom into fantasy (“Space is, like, God’s Rolex!”) or burst out in tart anger (“Do the police a favor; I’ll kick my own black ass.”). 

Azeem appeals directly to the audience, and he is an appealing presence. You want to hear what he’s got to say. And maybe to see him in a more rigorous show, too, responding to others, not just the characters in his head, something more intensive, not just bursts of intensity that transfix Azeem’s geniality. 






8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through Nov. 25 at The Marsh Berkeley, The Gaia Arts Center, 2120 Allston Way.  


Contributed photo  

Azeem’s appealing presence makes you want to hear what he has to say.