BASH’D – A Gay Rap Opera * Written and performed by Chris Craddock and Nathan Cuckow * Music by Aaron Macri * Directed by Ron Jenkins * The Zipper Factory Theater, New York City. 

For degree of difficulty, I’d have to give Bash’d a 9.9. Can you really take a three-minute comedy sketch idea—two white guys calling themselves T-Bag and Feminem doing an outrageously gay rap number—and stretch it out into a 70-minute show without stultifying the audience? Amazingly enough, Bash’d mostly pulls it off. 

The show originated in 2000 as one song in a cabaret act by Nathan Cuckow, a gay Mormon who grew up in conservative Calgary, Canada. As the character of Feminem, Cuckow described all the types you see in a typical gay bar—in rhymed couplets to a hip-hop beat. After he met Chris Craddock, a straight actor with a long history of doing gay drag shows like Tranny Get Your Gun and Little Orphan Tranny, they turned the gay rap into a duet. That one song evolved into Bash’d, a musical about two lovers and what happens when one of them gets gay-bashed and the other seeks revenge. The show debuted at the Roost, a popular gay club in Edmonton, and eventually made its way to fringe festivals in Toronto and New York. Now it’s installed for an open-ended run at the Zipper Factory, a funky Off-Broadway theater.
Nathan Cuckow (top) and Chris Craddock (bottom, so to speak)

The tone of Bash’d is edgy, comedic, and in-your-face. Picture a pale-faced Run-DMC in pink-and-white track suits chanting “Get off my fuckin’ back okay, I like to suck dick/Now fuck me in the ass and I’ll write rhymes about it.” And the execution is ingenious. The two terrifically talented actors play several dozen roles, including  MCs T-Bag and Feminem, a pair of star-crossed lovers -- small-town Dillon and big-city Jack -- and a riotous rundown of twinks, drag queens, muscle-boys, lesbians, bears, fag hags, and chicken hawks. All this to a continuous, sing-songy hip-hop beat that teeters on the edge of monotony without ever quite falling in.

Like a hip-hop Terrence McNally play (how’s that for an oxymoron?), Bash’d goes through the list of classic scenes from gay life – first kiss, first sex, intro to gay books and movies, first relationship, first fight, coming out to parents, getting married, dealing with homophobia – skirting cliché only by condensing all this to economical rap rhymes. It doesn’t achieve, nor does it aspire to, the Shakespearean eloquence of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s remarkably fresh pop-rap hit In the Heights, which won this year’s Tony Award for best musical on Broadway. Instead, it delivers its jokes, its affectionate critique, and its romanticism in smart, fleet bursts. Feminem: “WOOF sounds like a dog, or like Arsenio Hall/Man, WOOF doesn’t sound like a freakin bear at all.” T-Bag: “Yeah well, Gay culture is full of contradiction.”

Speaking of contradiction, I have one teensy reservation about Bash’d. It sets itself up as a kind of socially conscious drama addressing anti-gay violence. But the climactic plot turn has the gay guys killing a straight guy and being mowed down by cops and then, in the after-life, receiving a lecture about how violence begets violence: “Why don’t you save yourself some trouble, just walk away.” Uhhh, excuse me, but on what planet is there an epidemic of straights getting bashed by gays? If you’re doing fairy-tale revenge fantasy, go all the way. If you’re seriously addressing hate crime as a social issue, let’s tell the truth about who bashes whom. 

The Advocate, August 26, 2008