Curtis Belz is a nervy young actor who is just about ideal in Jails, Hospitals & Hip-Hop, the solo show by Danny Hoch that opened Thursday in the mainstage theater of the recently renovated Performing Arts Building of Hillsborough Community College in Ybor City.
When Belz sinks his chops into the character of, say, Flip, a white teenager in Montana rapping in front of his bedroom mirror, he is thoroughly - and properly - obnoxious, but weirdly poignant, too. "Even though I live in Montana, I still got the ghetto in my heart," he declares.
Actually, Flip is one of the more obvious portrayals in Hoch's series of monologues, and Belz shines even brighter in the nuanced ones, such as Victor, a guy on crutches, flirting with a Czech girl in a hospital; or Andy, a drug addict with AIDS angrily sweeping the floor in a correctional facility. Belz is a graceful mover (he does a cool pirouette on the crutches) and his facial expressions as he inhabits these obsessive-compulsive characters are uncanny, and sometimes kind of scary.
As the title suggests, hip-hop is the prevailing idiom of Jails, and like many rappers, Belz at times is barely understandable, as in his motor-mouthed performance as Bronx, an inmate busted for selling Bart Simpson and O.J. Simpson T-shirts. The bare-bones production was directed by Christopher Rutherford, with the actor plucking bits of costume off a clothesline to make changes between characters. Matt Wetherington, a guitarist on a platform above the stage, adds deft musical touches.
This was my first visit to the renovated HCC Performing Arts Building, and I was impressed. The mainstage theater (246 seats) is well suited for a show like Jails, and the space seems as if it would also be good for dance and chamber music.
John Fleming can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8716. He blogs on Critics Circle at blogs.tampabay.com/arts.
'Jails, Hospitals & Hip-Hop'
Show at 7:30 tonight at HCC Performing Arts Building, Palm Avenue and 15th Street, Tampa. $10, $5. (813) 253-7695.