Graffiti artists clash in ‘Hit the Wall’ at Off-Broadway’s The Kraine

When Rae, a protégé, friend, and apartment mate of Amir, the world’s most famous graffiti artist, comes close to painting the perfect wall, it goes viral and results in conflict, jealousy, and competition between them and significant ramifications for both. Spin Cycle, Frigid, and JCS Theater Company present the world premiere of Hit the Wall, a new one-act two-hander by award-winning playwright Jake Shore, at Off-Broadway’s The Kraine Theater.

Alexandra Guerrero and Adam Files. Photo by Neil Ryan.

Timothy Haskell directs the extremely intelligent and compelling dialogue with ever-present tension – both intellectual and physical (with Jenn Susi serving as intimacy coordinator) – as the two debate the purpose and value of art, its visibility and immortality, and the need for artists to be connected to their work and to create subjects that are influential in society and important to our history. The thought-provoking conversation also considers the need for graffiti artists to remain anonymous to evade arrest and jail time for illegally vandalizing the properties of others, the dangers of scaling buildings and climbing unsafe scaffolding to execute their work, and the impact of fame, success, and financial gain on them, rather than just enjoying the fulfillment of doing what they do because it’s who they are and what they feel is important.

The excellent cast of two is thoroughly engrossing as the highly successful mentor and the younger rising artist, whose attitudes and fundamental disagreements represent their different generations and threaten their artistic chemistry. Adam Files as Amir – who has ceased creating graffiti out of concern over being identified and prosecuted – is at first more calm and controlled as he gives advice and imparts the lessons he’s learned, most notably his belief that technical virtuosity isn’t as important as saying something through art (as Turner did with his momentous 1840 painting of The Slave Ship). But he becomes increasingly agitated and delusional, railing against the “rapists and pedophiles” of high-tuition universities, and comparing and contrasting his art with that of the theater, convinced that he can hear his audience breathing.

Alexandra Guerrero and Adam Files. Photo by Neil Ryan.

Alexandra Guerrero as Rae, estranged from her abusive dying father, is more youthful and impassioned in her delivery, lamenting that the wall she just tagged in Crown Heights isn’t good enough, she’s a failure, and the situation there is too dangerous to complete it – though Amir tells her she should and offers to go with her. She then becomes increasingly empowered when she does, and when she sees it has gotten millions of hits on social media. Her insistence that Amir take the risk of realizing his own dream of graffitiing a very visible wall in Times Square leads to an incident there, after which their respective status shifts and the lure of fame and money takes its toll on their relationship and psyches.

A simple set with minimal furnishings by Paul Smithyman allows the actors to move around the small stage and to change Brynne Oster-Bainnson’s suitably unassuming and paint-spattered costumes easily in front of us, while Zoe Stanton-Savitz’s sound design and lighting by Yang Yu (most notably in the final scene) effectively augment the setting and the moods in this fascinating fusion of art and theater that will leave you thinking about the power and essence of both.

Running Time: Approximately 60 minutes, without intermission,

Photo by Max Ruby.

Hit the Wall plays through Thursday, August 11, 2022, at The Kraine Theater, 85 East 4th Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $25 in person, $15 streaming), go online. Proof of vaccination and a valid photo ID are required for entry and audiences must be masked in the theater.

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