Azuka Theatre’s Young Money is heartbreaking and humorous, gives us a lot to think about

-Brenda Hillegas
Feature photo: Johanna Tolentino (Gardenia) & Angela Bey (Kila-T), by Johanna Austin

There are a couple reasons why you cannot miss Young Money from Azuka Theatre (at the Louis Bluver Theatre at The Drake, 302 S. Hicks Street). First, it’s the Azuka directing debut for Briana Gause- a Philadelphia based film and theatre maker. Second, Young Money is making its world premiere here, from local playwright Erlina Ortiz. In fact, the entire cast and crew is local talent. Third, Angela Bey and Johanna Tolentino are so damn believable in this show that you’ll forget you’re actually at a theatre. Much like Johanna’s character, Gardenia, who finds herself locked in a room with rising rapper Kila-T (Bey), you’ll feel like you’ve also stumbled upon their space and are eavesdropping on their conversations.

Young Money is a story about facing fears and facing truths. About keeping it real and standing your ground. Gardenia and Kila-T are trapped together in a room at a concert venue in the heat of an all-too-real scenario. It’s a scenario that I’m sure we all we have all played out in our heads when we are in public sadly…

As the show progresses, we learn more about these two characters and who they are. Bey and Tolentino do an incredible job bringing Gardenia and Kila-T to life. I wonder how many conversations have happened in dressing rooms like this one and how many life-long connections were made as a result. Young Money is equally hilarious and heartbreaking as we dig into the backgrounds of these two people who come together to survive not just in the moment but in life in general. Azuka’s content aims to feature voices that aren’t usually amplified in theatre. Erlina Ortiz’s story covers hot topics like suicide, mental health, gun control, and the unjust legal system all while being funny and not too bleak of a show overall. The balance is perfect and I look forward to the rest of this season and other talented Philadelphia playwrights like Ortiz.

And as a side note, I personally loved the musical aspect to Young Money. Both performers showed off their voices and if the two of them want to consider collaborating on a real life album, I’ll be first in line to buy it!

There’s a lot to take away from this show, but most importantly, we should listen to one another, not judge. We should step into another person’s shoes and try to understand the world like they do. We shouldn’t assume what anyone is going through. What may seem easy to you may be difficult for others. Young Money is a great show to unpack long after the performance is over. I’d see it again if I could but my schedule seems to be as busy as Kila-T’s! Will you see it? Performances run through November 21st and tickets can be reserved here.

Tickets to all three shows this season (and every season) are always pay what you decide. Reserve a seat, watch the performance, and donate before you leave the theatre. It’s am amazing concept that helps make theatre affordable for all. Give what you can and help off-set the cost for another theatre lover in Philadelphia.

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