Two teenage girls in track pants and hoodies are chillaxing when a third youngster shows up.
"Can you spit?" they ask the newcomer. She hacks loudly and pretends to expel saliva.
The two girlfriends titter. They weren't asking about bodily functions but art: "Can you spit rhymes," or, put another way, are you hip enough to be down with us?
The newcomer improvises a few weak bars, and the friends welcome her to their circle.
That bit of cultural initiation is one of many memorable sequences in "Khephra: A Hip Hop Holiday Story," an interactive, family-friendly show that had its boisterous opening over the weekend at Open Eye Figure Theatre in Minneapolis.
The playful production is written by, and stars, Shá Cage, the versatile and prolific Twin Cities actor/director last seen in "Romeo and Juliet" at the Guthrie. Her new show, directed fluidly by E.G. Bailey, mixes puppetry, music and dance as it tells a sincere story about a fatherless African girl's migration to America.
Khephra (Cage), named for an Egyptian sun god, bounces around West Africa before landing in the Minnesota snow at age 10. As she sits on a swing, Khephra explains that "joy" and "home" are the intertwined themes of the show. The first of these is innate, and helps you to make the second wherever you might be.
"Resilience" also could be a theme: The spunky lead character is a hungry learner who carries cultural and spiritual memories with her, from eating fufu (a dumpling-like West African food) to watching stilt-walking "long devils" at festivals. She adds new knowledge, learning to thrive and be healthy in a place she never could have imagined calling home.
Cage has played important roles at Ten Thousand Things, Mixed Blood and Penumbra Theatre, and she won an Ivey Award two years ago for playing an Air Force drone pilot in "Grounded" for Frank Theatre. She shows different sides of her talent in this hourlong show that could make a run at the title of most funky holiday production. (That distinction is held by Gary Hines and Sounds of Blackness, who will put on their 39th annual "Night Before Christmas" concert Dec. 23 at the Fitzgerald in St. Paul.)
"Khephra" has a little break-dancing by actors Destiny Anderson and Alissa Paris, who play all the other roles, including some intimidating bullies. Noted hip-hop artist William "Truthmaze" Harris contributes deft beatboxing and African drumming, while soulful singer Jamela Pettiford leads the audience in call-and-response segments and fronts a hip-hop remix of "The 12 Days of Christmas." Rico Mendez, aka DJ Don Cuco, adds some scratching.
All of this remixing — of songs, movements and experiences — is what "Khephra" ultimately is all about. Like jazz and cinema, it's a story of America itself. Old narratives meet new ones to create something unique, unexpected and beautifully original.
612-673-4390 Twitter: @rohanpreston