Black & Rural: stuck in its head

publicity photo for Black & Rural

Shayna Jones. Set and costume by Cecelia Vadala. Lighting by Brad Trenaman
(Photo: Sarah Race)

I’m white and urban writing about playwright Shayna Jones’s exploration of being Black and rural. Keep that in mind as you read this.

In her solo show Black & Rural, which she has written and is now performing, Jones tells us that she lives in a mountain village of 800 people — and she’s one of the only Black people within hundreds of miles. As such, she feels constantly observed by her well-meaning, mostly white neighbours and constantly called upon to perform. After George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, Jones’s village held a Black Lives Matter march and, just by showing up, Jones became the day’s unwilling star. She appreciated the community’s action, but resented being thanked for the “enrichment” that her presence brings to the community. Within the message that her presence is exceptional, Jones heard the warning that she doesn’t belong there.

She tells us that, reeling from the alienation of this BLM experience, she set out to interview other Black and rural Canadians — searching, presumably, for some sense of solidarity and validation, some understanding of herself within a like-minded community. Over 18 months, she had 40 conversations that went on for “hours and hours.” From this research — and rumination — Black & Rural has emerged.

To present the results, Jones has written a 70-minute show that largely consists of newly invented “folktales”.

Although I’m sympathetic to Jones’s easily-imaginable sense of otherness, Black & Rural bored the pants off me.

[Read more…]

The Messiah: The silliest story ever told (That’s a compliment.)

publicity photo for Pacific Theatre's The Messiah

The happy couple: Peter Carlone as Mary and John Voth as Joseph
(Chelsey Stuyt Photography)

You have to be smart to be dumb. Or wily. Or at least have good instincts. Okay, I don’t really know how they do it, but, playing a couple of goofballs in Pacific Theatre’s production of The Messiah, Peter Carlone and John Voth are very funny and very engaging. [Read more…]

Benevolence: exuberance, compassion

 

publicity photo for Benevolence

Okay, just start giving Charlie Gallant prizes for his performance in Benevolence. (Photo by Moonrider Productions)

On my trip to Benevolence, I started on a hill, then wandered through a valley. As I climbed the rise on the other side, I was surprised to find a startling view. Translation: I got bored in the middle of this show, but there’s such an excellent payoff that my overriding response is gratitude. [Read more…]

The Mountaintop: thrilling peaks (and some valleys)

publicity still for The Mountaintop

Kwesi Ameyaw and Shayna Jones (Photo by Moonrider Productions)

For me, the doorway to this production didn’t open until about halfway through. At that point, it became transcendent — intermittently. By the end, I was moved.

In Katori Hall’s 2009 script, she imagines Martin Luther King Jr. in his motel room on April 3, 1968, the night before he was assassinated. The moment a maid named Camae arrives bearing the coffee King has ordered you know she is no ordinary worker: there’s a flash of lightning, a crash of thunder, and the lights in the room flicker. Sure, there’s a storm outside, but we’re in the theatre and cues like this are not accidental. [Read more…]

How the World Began — and how it stalled

Publicity photo for How the World Began

Here’s a young actor to watch: Even Rein.
Meghan Gardiner is in the foreground.
(Photo by Diamond’s Edge Photography)

It’s kind of like a horror movie with an obvious out — like “Why don’t they just call the cops?”

In her 2011 script How the World Began, Catherine Trieschmann sets up an artificial conflict between the scientific and the religious. Susan has recently arrived in Plainview, Kansas, to teach biochemistry at the local high school. At first, she claims that her reasons for coming are altruistic: she wants to help out because a tornado has recently leveled the town and left 17 dead. But it soon emerges that she’s also there for more pressing practical reasons: she’s about to become a single mom, and this job offers both quick teaching certification and health insurance.

Coming from New York, though, Susan is politically and culturally blue — and Plainview is not. [Read more…]

Wakey, Wakey: There’s a call for you

Publicity photo for Wakey, Wakey.

Actor Craig Erickson in front of a video by Wladimiro A. Woyno R. (Photo by Chelsey Stuyt Photography)

I’ve never been more alert to shimmering life than in the weeks preceding my friend Len’s assisted death. Presence was the gift of their passing.

That’s also the substance of Will Eno’s Wakey, Wakey, which is seamlessly well realized in Pacific Theatre’s production. [Read more…]

Gather: Stories in Nature — room to grow

publicity photo for Gather: Stories in Nature

Sharing stories outside is a good idea.
(Photo of Shayna Jones and Cameron Peal by Kathryn Nickford)

Maybe the best way to see these two short scripts is as seedlings.

In Gather: Stories in Nature, Shayna Jones and Cameron Peal both perform solo plays they’ve written about their relationships to the earth. In a (mostly) productive decision, their work is being presented beneath the trees in Queen Elizabeth Park.

Jones’s work is currently the sturdier of the two. It’s about a woman named Miriam who’s struggling in an oppressive marriage to a guy named Clinton. Early on, Clinton complains that Miriam is getting too independent: “That’s what I get for letting you discover yourself.” [Read more…]

Best of Enemies: worth befriending

Pacific Theatre is presenting Best of Enemies.

There’s stillness in Celia Aloma’s performance. Don’t let that lull you. (Photo by Diamond’s Edge Photography)

Best of Enemies is a familiar and predictable story of a white man’s redemption, but it still matters — a great deal. And it’s true. [Read more…]

Gramma: this 75 minutes could age you

Pacific Theatre is presenting Maki Yi's play Gramma.

(Photo of Maki Yi by Emily Cooper)

Playwright and solo performer Maki Yi means well with Gramma and it starts off promisingly, but it quickly becomes very boring. [Read more…]

Frankenstein, Lost in Darkness: waiting to be found at Pacific Theatre

Pacific Theatre is presenting Frankenstein as a radio play.

Tariq Leslie as Frankenstein’s creature. 

Taking in Frankenstein: Lost in Darkness is very much like sitting around a fire on a winter evening and listening to a storyteller who is very good — if a little long-winded. [Read more…]

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