Reviews: word!sound!powah!, LIKE THE FIRST TIME, and LOVE LIES BLEEDING

by Lynn on November 11, 2011

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following three plays were reviewed on Friday, November 11, 2011, CIUT 89.5 FM on the as yet no named show: word!sound!powah! at Tarragon Extra Space; LIKE THE FIRST TIME at the Walmer Centre Theatre and LOVE LIES BLEEDING at the Sony Centre. Rose Palmieri was the host sitting in for Damon Scheffer.


1) It’s Friday morning and I’m here with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer.

Hi Lynn

You’re going to talk about three shows this week: word!sound!powah!; LIKE THE FIRST TIME, and LOVE LIES BLEEDING. What caught your fancy about them?


It is an eclectic mix.

word!sound!powah! is a one woman play that is written and performed by d’bi.young anitafrika and is the third part in the sankofa trilogy.

LIKE THE FIRST TIME is written and directed by Adam Seelig and is based on a play by Luigi Pirandello.

LOVE LIES BLEEDING is Alberta Ballet’s homage to the music of Elton John and Bernie Taupin.


2) An eclectic mix indeed. Let’s go in order as you usually do: word!sound!powah! On the page the title is in all small letters.

Is this deliberate?


It is.

The playwright and performer is d’bi.young anitafrika, all in small letters, and she writes about the Jamaican experience.

young anitafrika is a Jamaican Canadian writer/performer now travelling the world and performing her work.

The trilogy was first nurtured at Theatre Passe Muraille and Andy McKim, its Artistic Director.

word!sound!powah! is the third part of the sankofa trilogy— The other two plays, blood.claat and benu will open later in the month.

The trilogy covers almost 40 years in the lives of three generations of women in the sankofa family, namely Benu, her mother and grandmother.

These women are poets and political activists.

The plays are set in Jamaica and in their way look at the politics and corruption of government and the people who want to make a change.

This is certainly true of word!sound!powah!


3) If word!sound!powah! is the third part of the trilogy and it’s opening this run at Tarragon, is that confusing?

Will people get a sense of where this play fits in the trilogy?

A good question.

I’ve seen the first two plays and was familiar with the characters mentioned in
word!sound!powah! But if I came to it fresh, I would think that it was confusing even though young anitafrika’s performance is compelling. Is that the assumption, that she thinks that people would have seen the other two plays and would automatically know who she was talking about? I don’t think that’s a reasonable assumption.

word!sound!powah! is a mix of dub poetry, story-telling, song, traditional music and sound effects made by three musicians.

Dub poetry is a form of performance poetry that originated in Jamaica or the West Indies at least, involving spoken word said over music.


4) Let’s talk about the production. What makes the performance so compelling?


d’bi.young anitafrika is just such an engaging performer. She a moving force of expression, flitting seamlessly from scene to scene.

In one scene she is a character brutally interrogated about a recent protest. Then she goes back in time to her grandmother’s day, then back to the present.

young anitafrika gives a powah-house performance that is vibrant, fearless and joyful in a play that is confusing if you don’t know the other two plays.

That said, I think the piece needs trimming. And I think it’s overproduced for a one person show.

d’bi.young anitafrika has said that she envisioned that the trilogy would be huge in production scope.

That’s a mistake, as the production overpowers the piece.

There is a really impressive set by Camellia Koo of a huge tree with branches that spread all through the small Extra Space.

There are three musicians that sing and create the soundscape.

Too much.

And interestingly, there is no mention of a director. It needs one, to help shape the show and young anitafrika’s performance. A performance, no matter how grand, can always use a good director.

So I have issues with word!sound!powah! from its placement in the performance schedule and the piece as a whole.

But I look forward to the other two shows: blood.claatand benu.


5) Moving on, what about LIKE THE FIRST TIME?


It’s written and directed by Adam Seelig, the Artistic Director of One Little Goat Theatre Company.

It describes itself as a theatre company devoted to modern and contemporary poetic theatre. Theatre that tries to find clarity through ambiguity.

A bit pretentious, that.

I have found their productions in the past hard going in the context of clarity, but I always go.

LIKE THE FIRST TIME is a refreshing change.

It’s based on a play by Luigi Pirandello. An Italian playwright who wrote in the early 20th century and dealt in a metaphysical way with reality, appearance.

His best known play is 6 Characters in Search of An Author. My favourite is Right You Are, (If you think you are).

The premise of LIKE THE FIRST TIME is fascinating and mysterious.

A woman named Fulvia, is involved with two men. She has one child and is pregnant with
another and the father here is a mystery.

At the beginning of the play Fulvia is attempting suicide by hanging herself. Her husband, Marco, has left her for another woman but returns when it doesn’t work out. Fulvia is saved by Marco but leaves for a former lover, a dangerous fellah named Sylvio.

She hasn’t seen him in 13 years because she left him. He raised their three year old daughter.

The two men vie for Fulvia’s affections. She tries to win the love of her now 16 year old
daughter who doesn’t know that she is her mother.

Welcome to Pirandello country.


6) You say that Seelig has used Pirandello’s play as a guide, how does he do?


Well there is the mystery of who the father of the baby is. There is a lot of games playing with names. Fulvia is sometimes called Flora by Marco. She also refers to him by other names.

In a program note Seeling says the text is written with no punctuation. The actors chose how to emphasize the text.

(A bit dangerous, that)

Seeling also includes a note from Pirandello on the text of a play and the nature of theatre: .. ”The work of art in the theatre is no longer the work of a writer… but an act of life to be created moment by moment on the stage and together with the spectators”

One assumes that that act of life is created by the actor and the director. And here is where this production is a mixed bag.


7) How so?


As a director Seeling’s productions are beautiful to look at—the scene with Fulvia attempting suicide is beautiful and elegant.

She stands on a table with black gown that billows over the table and a black scarf hanging down from the ceiling that is loosely wrapped around her neck.

But the productions are rather static in the direction.

Seelig belongs to the school of directing that tells actors to move downstage three steps and look out, after they say a certain word.

It gives the productions a stilted feel. Hardly life-like.

The performances here make the difference and are interesting with one glaring exception.

As Marco, Dov Mickelson is dangerous and desperate for Fulvia. He seethes with life.

As Fulvia, Cathy Murphy is almost sphinx-like. I can see why these two men would find her appealing.

Sylvio, the former lover, is supposed to be mysterious and dangerous too, but you would never know it from Andrew Moodie’s wooden, stultifying performance. Comotose, unexpressive and he acts by rote.

The only action of this character is putting his hands in his pockets, walking three steps here or there, and breathing melodramatically.


There is much to recommend the production, but this performance really makes it hard to recommend.


8) OUCH.

And now for something completely different. A ballet. LOVE LIES BLEEDING.

Last week you said you generally didn’t review opera or ballet. How come you’re doing this one?



I don’t generally review these because I don’t have the vocabulary for ballet. So I am looking at this Alberta Ballet production as a theatrical event.

Artistic director/choreographer Jean Grand-Maitre has created ballets using the music of pop/folk composers. He did the popular and award winning FIDDLE and THE DRUM using the music of Joni Mitchell.

He’s created a ballet using the music of Sarah McLaughlin.

LOVE LIES BLEEDING is Alberta Ballet’s homage to the music of Sir Elton John and Bernie Taupin.

In his curtain speech seemed geared towards the person who knew the music but not necessarily the artform.

So he sold it not as a ballet but as a rock concert. There a a lot of lighting effects; bombarding video images and all manner of stuff associated with a rock concert.

Grand-Maitre uses 14 of Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s songs from “Goodby Yellow Brick Road to Rocket Man to, Someone Saved My Life Tonight, to Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.

And he encouraged people to tweet and text.

What I was looking at was a muscular, hip-thrusting sexually charged work that is based in sex-drugs-rock and roll and love.

There is not a tutu in sight.

The costumes referenced a lot of the flamboyance of Elton John.

But I also saw a tip of the bowler hat to Broadway director-choreographer Bob Fossie.

His choreography always used lots of hip thrusting. And his dancers wore bowler hats which they always tipped.

LOVE LIES BLEEDING Has lots of that.

And in the middle of this rocking, dazzling work is a number between two men that referenceswar, homophobia and love, that is startling in how moving it is.


9) Do you think the non-ballet fans might be converted?


I think they might when they see how this music is applied to this athletic choreography.

Is it good ballet?

I don’t know, but the effect on the audience certainly was evident.


Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer.

word!sound!powah! is part of the sankofa trilogy which plays at the Tarragon Extra Space until Dec. 4.

LIKE THE FIRST TIME plays at the Walmer Centre Theatre until Nov. 13.

LOVE LIES BLEEDING plays at the Sony Centre until November 12.

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