10/24/2020 2 THE LEFT: A TRIBUTE TO THE LIFE OF LISA “LEFT EYE” LOPES
Aurora Theatre “Our Stage Onscreen”
TRANSFORMATIONS, STYLE, AND SUPERNOVAS
It is said that a Supernova is a massive explosion of energy and light, brightening the sky for an instant, but with effects lingering long past ignition. It is fitting that the late rapper-singer-artist Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes titled her first solo album, Supernova. She was, after all, an explosive (and eccentric) talent who burst onto the Atlanta music scene in 1992 with her group TLC, only to have her life tragically cut short at age 31, and whose legacy lingers for her fans.
For its second foray into “Our Stage Onscreen,” Aurora Theatre has chosen Kerisse Hutchinson’s 2 the Left: A Tribute to the Life of Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, originally developed with Synchronicity Theatre’s Stripped Bare series. Ms. Hutchinson plays the lead herself (and it is a one-woman show), and she is an eye-opening talent to watch. Filled with more energy than a, well than a supernova, she explodes on the screen with a wealth of charisma that is absolutely jaw-dropping. Always on the move, she rarely sits, and when she does, it is rarely for more than a second or two.
To admit my bias, I am not a fan of rap, and the careers of TLC and Ms. Lopes slid (far) beneath my 90’s radar. So, I was happy to see this wasn’t designed as a “Juke Box Greatest Hits” musical, but as the story of a young and brash talent filled with a wealth of melodies and raps and lyrics from her career, all of which are engaging, even to non-fans like myself.
Lisa Nicole Lopes was born in 1971 in Philadelphia to a strict Army Sergeant, who treated the household “as if it were a boot camp.” But she displayed a penchant (and love) for music from an early age and was soon competing (and winning) in local talent contests. But her “in your face” style kept her from “finals” and eventually led her to Atlanta where Outkast and others were ushering in a Southern Black Renaissance of Hip Hop. Forming TLC with Tionne Watkins and Crystal Jones (who was eventually replaced by Rozonda Thomas, nicknamed “Chilli” to maintain the integrity of the “TLC” acronym), she had her first hit album and was on her way. She picked up the nickname “Left Eye” when a fellow musician complimented her on the beauty of her left eye, supposedly more slanted than her right. She embraced the nickname, appearing in public with glasses sporting a condom over the right lens, putting stripes under her left eye, and piercing her left eyebrow.
She also took up with Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Andre Rison, but their relationship was turbulent, even abusive. When in a fit of anger, she decided to burn his beloved sneakers, she accidentally set the whole ($860,000) house on fire, leading to a charge of arson.
Eventually, tensions within TLC came to a head, and Lopes left to pursue a solo career, with the album Supernova being the first of …. Well, a few.
So, how does 2 The Left introduce us to Lisa Lopez? In an explosion of energy and rhythm, playwright Kerisse Hutchinson bursts onto the stage (“Am I Late? Of course I am!”) and starts talking about Aaliyah, the singer and actress killed in a plane crash shortly before Lopes’ own death. She quickly segues into talking about TLC and the rifts between herself and her friends (she insists they remained friends despite all the public squabbling – “Families fight, but they also love.”). The entire play is like this, caroming from anecdote to memory to lyric to “deep thoughts” with the speed and randomness of a pinball, the flow often interrupted with a phone call (her energetic “Whassup?” in answer becoming an actual leitmotif). Ms. Hutchinson also voices other characters, her father, her friends, anyone on the other end of that phone call, and too many “cousins” looking for a handout. So many cousins! So many, in fact that her accountant warns her that she has to learn how to say “No.”
And that’s the compelling draw of this piece. It shows a woman with demons, with issues, but with a heart that embraces everyone. She went so far as to adopt the 8-year old daughter of a struggling mother she met in rehab (ten years after adopting a 12-year-old boy). And, shortly before her death, she was involved in a pedestrian accident in Honduras (dark night, bad road) in which a ten-year old boy wandered in front the vehicle in which she was riding. She held the boy in her arms as he bled out, took him and his family to a hospital, and paid for his casket and funeral.
She was in Honduras chiefly from the advice of her “spiritual advisor,” Dr. Sebi, an earnest but untrained guru (some would say “quack”) who shepherded her into a vegetarian lifestyle, and advised her to “go naked in the jungle,” to reconnect with herself and to exorcise her demons. It was Dr. Sebi who taught her that death was not an end, but a transformation. Which is how she describes Aaliyah’s passing, her father’s murder, and the young Honduran boy’s end. And to its credit, 2 The Left affords Lisa the same consideration, as we see her transcend physicality after her own death.
I have to confess to liking this production a lot more than I was expecting to. Ms. Hutchinson, as writer and actor, creates an indelible character who powers through life with a take-no-prisoners attitude and an uncompromising talent. It made me want to take a deeper dive into Lopes’ life and career.
A full stage set makes it obvious this would be just as effective live, and Kerisse Hutchinson simply owns the space, challenging and welcoming the unseen audience. A marvelous costume design (by Dr. L. Nyrobi N. Moss) layers the star so she is effectively baggy and casual in her early career, and sleeker and sexier as her fame increases. Like a Kabuki Dragon Dancer, Ms. Hutchinson sheds layer after layer, even as her story strips her own soul bare.
And, to its credit, Aurora has really ramped up its videography game. I took Barbara’s Blue Kitchen to task for less-than-optimal shot planning and editing, but here the who thing clicks beautifully. Color coding helps to underscore her “conversations” with other characters. The tech team (Ashley Hogan and Daniel Pope) use fades and overlaps and text boxes, the full palette of video tools. This show looks and sounds wonderful!
So kudos to director Thomas W. Jones III and to Music Director S. Renee Clark, who bring their expected “A” game to the project. But first and foremost, kudos to Kerisse Hutchinson, who has written a beautiful tribute piece and who inhabits Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes as if she were already transforming.
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com @bk_rudy #AuroraOurStageOnScreen #2TheLeft)