When you see "Venice" on the marquee above the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, don't bother pulling out a map.
"Venice is a fictional city; neither Venice, CA or Venice, Italy," says Matt Sax. "I think it’s a cross between New York City and Jerusalem."
Coming off “Clay,” his successful one-man hip hop show a couple years ago, Matt Sax has mounted "Venice" – a story with a classical root. Sax collaborated with musician Eric Rosen.
"We took 'Othello' and we loved some of the relationships in 'Othello,'" says Sax, "and we decided we’d start from there. The first thing we did was a workshop and I created a bunch of songs based on Eric and my conversations about 'Othello' just to see if some of the material could sing at all."
At the crux of the story, Sax says, are two brothers with opposing political views who try to avenge their mother's death. "The general story is about sort of a generation of kids who have inherited the problems of their parents’ generation and are trying to solve them by emulating their parents, which we know in today’s world isn’t always the best way to go about things."
While Sax grew up listening to his dad’s favorite bands – the Beatles and Led Zeppelin – hip hop drew him in as soon as he could get his hands on the radio dial. "It is the language by which young people speak, certainly, but what we found with Clay and certainly with Venice right now, is that while the older audience listens with older ears, they appreciate it just the same way. It’s really a cool thing because the poetry in it is something the older generations can relate to as well."
Sax couldn’t seem to launch an acting career during college, so he became a rapper. He’s 26 and his relationship with Center Theatre Group, which runs the Kirk Douglas Theatre, offers the support he says allows him to try new approaches to stoytelling.
Two choreographers worked with him to develop “Venice," and that introduced a healthy creative friction. "So I mean that in and of itself is... one is John Carrafa who is a Tony-nominated choreographer for 'Urinetown,' and then Tanisha Scott who’s a hip hop choreographer, and she choreographs for Rihanna and Beyoncé, so the two of them together, creating the visual movement language of the show, along with Eric the director, that is hip hop at its core also, putting these two impulses together to create the language of the show, I think, is really cool."
“Venice” continues through November 14 at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City.