There’s a party going on in Bushwick. It is both retro and futuristic. It wants you up on your feet. It wants to get into your soul (read “soul” as if it were in front of food or music). Its host/DJ/educator is a brobot, a race of hip hop automatons from the planet Nubian, and a time traveler, having come from exactly one hundred years in the future. His name is Flobot Owens. He’s been granted eighty minutes on Earth in the year 2018 to remind the residents of that doomed planet of the values they once held dear. This is The Brobot Johnson Experience.
The black box theater has been transformed into the inside of a spaceship. It’s an impressive scenic design for such a small stage. According to Owens, his ship, named the LL Cool J, is powered by dopeness. The eighty minute “experience” is powered by Owens, or more specifically writer/performer Darian Dauchan. The idea for the show began as Dauchan’s concept album, and he performs about a dozen hip-hop, soul, and R&B songs throughout, pushing his own compact DJ booth around the stage. The lyrics are often clever, encouraging a close listen to ensure a sharp reference isn’t missed, or an unexpected rhyme slips by. His performance exudes warmth and enthusiasm. He covers every inch of the stage, ventures into the audience, pulls folks into the show with him. It is a genuine joy to be invited to his party.
Audience participation is taken seriously at this party. The back seats of the inclined rows are the best place for the shy. Although, be warned, there are points in the show where everyone is expected to rise, to dance, to join the experience. It’s tough to be a wallflower on this spaceship.
Owens is racing to tell the story of the brobots before his eighty minutes runs out and he must return to Nubian. Through that story he tries to explain to the audience the core beliefs of his race, the things we have long forgotten to prioritize: Ingenuity, Appreciation, Community, and so on. Each of these values has an accompanying symbol displayed on the set. It’s interesting to note that these fictional futuristic symbols are truthfully taken from the Asante tribe of Ghana. While the show sometimes feels like a sci-fi movie from the 1970’s or an R&B concert from the 1990’s, the use of these symbols reveals that Dauchan is hoping to expose roots that run much deeper. The philosophical elements of the show don’t add up to much in the narrative. The wisdom they are supposed to impart to us earthlings lacks the depth required to leave an impression. The lessons are too trite.
The scenic and costume designs, along with the music, and mostly Dauchan’s vibrant presence are enough to make the “experience” a good time. That’s all most people expect from a party after all. Doesn’t need to be life changing. Just needs to be fun.
The Brobot Johnson Experience runs to March 17, 2018. More production info can be found here.