Reviews: blood claat, benu, and THE WIZARD OF OZ

by Lynn on December 2, 2011

in The Passionate Playgoer

Ross Petty as the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz

[/caption The following reviews were recorded: Friday, Dec. 2/11. CIUT, 89.5 FM blood claat, >benu at the Tarragon Extra Space and THE WIZARD OF OZ at the Elgin Theatre


1) Good Friday morning. It’s time for a little theatre with our theatre critic, Lynn Slotkin, our passionate playgoer.

Hi Lynn…what have you got for us today?


I’m continuing with the other two plays of the sankofa trilogy: blood claat and benu.

We’ve already talked about word!sound!powah! And for something completely off the wall, THE WIZARD OF OZ that is given the Ross Petty, fractured fair-tale treatment.


3) Let’s start with the other two plays of the sankofa trilogy.What about the other two parts: blood claat and benu?


As I said when you were talking about word!sound!powah, this one is the last part of the sankofa trilogy, it’s about three generations of a family of women over 40 years.

Set between Jamaica and Toronto. And is about the empowerment of women and in particular a young woman named benu.

In the first two plays: blood claat, it’s 1972.

Mudgu sankofa is raised by her grandmother in Jamaica. Her mother has moved to Canada with her new husband, leaving Mudgu behind. She’s a flighty, petulant teen who just wants to have fun playing sports at school.

She’s the captain.

As the play goes on Mudgu is 15, sweet, impish, naïve and pregnant. She gives birth to a daughter she names sekesu sankofa.


3) Can we assume that benu is the next generation?



The year is 1992.

Eventually the family moves to Toronto. Mugdu, the grandmother had a business and did well, but hated the Canadian winters so she moved back to Jamaica.

sekesu is now 20 and living in Toronto. She has a boyfriend. She would like to have a child by him. He’s not sure. Until it doesn’t matter if he’s sure or not because sekesu is pregnant.

She has a hard time of it. She’s abandoned by her boyfriend. She has terrible headaches which get worse when the baby is born. She names the baby benu.

She can’t get medical relief she needs until she winds up in the hospital. At one point she leaves the baby benu at home alone, she is in such pain. She has post partum depression and something serious and troubling happens.


4) This sounds like benu is the most hard-hitting of the three.

While word!sound!powah! is a summing up of the three generations, and is really about benu, the stories are about the struggle for women to survive, and deal with early childhood pregnancy.

There are generations of 15 year old girls having children and continuing the cycle. The fathers are absent.

But it’s also about the politics of change in Jamaica mainly. The power of protest.


5) And it’s all delivered by dub poetry?


Yes, d’bi.young anitafrika is the writer, performer and sometimes director of these three pieces, and her performance is a tour de force.

Dub poetry is delivered with a musical accompaniment. The poetry is vaulting, vivid, delicate and hard hitting. And d’bi.young anitafrika’s performance is nothing short of sensational.

She is hugely expressive and moves like a dancer or a dangerous wild cat. And because the space is so small, she just pins her audience with a gaze that holds and holds.

I think her plays continue to evolve and change. She has said that talk-backs are very important her creative process. She has them after every show.

The version of benu I saw a few years ago at Summerworks, is more pared down in places and fleshed out in others.

I’m not sure it’s as hard hitting as it originally was because now young anitafrika intersperses benu’s sad story with a fairy tale that the grandmother is telling. I think that muddies the ending and lets the audience off the hook. I think we should be squirming at the end. Audiences love that. Because they are involved.

And while a director, Natasha Mytnowych is listed as the director for that first production a few years ago, I’m not sure she is now involved in this version.


6) Why do you think that?


As we file into the theatre there is a form, sitting on a chair? Platform? in the middle of the stage, covered by a large white sheet. It looks like a person or statue with its head bowed and the sheet covers the head and the body.There is a little opening around the front of the head.

That form is absolutely still for most of ½ hour before the show starts. I do see the sheet quiver and shake a bit, and I did watch for ½ hour….so is it alive?

Then the lights fade. We hear rustling and when the lights go up there is a person all in white standing on a platform where the person was, flapping the sides of the sheet like a bird.

A good director would have had the lights go up on that still apparition and then on a cue, have that apparition move, stand and flap the wings. What purpose does it serve to see this still stature for ½ an hour if we then don’t see the wonder of it turning into life?

But as I said, young anitafrika is so compelling a performer—charming, dangerous and fluid. Watching her act is like watching a living poem.


7) And now The Wizard of Oz—you can’t get much different than that.


Certainly not in this case.

This is the yearly offering of Ross Petty, who has been producing fractured fairy tales in Toronto, around the holiday season. This is his 16th season.

This one is billed as “ THE WIZARD OF OZ, The Wickedly Wacky Family Musical.” That should tell you that this version will not be as we know it.

We still have the regular characters—Dorothy who is on a quest to find the wizard of Oz; a good and bad witch, a scarecrow with no brain, a timid lion and a tin man in search of a heart. And of course Toto the dog.

But…it starts in Toronto. A terrible snowstorm blows Dorothy far, far away….to Oz…in this case the real Oz, Australia. She looks around. She does not see any bike lanes, or other familiar places, and says “I don’t think we’re in Toronto any more, Toto.”

And we have other characters as well: Plumbum—a wonderful flighty, glib character from another fractured fairy tale.

They all go through the same trials and tribulations and realize the same truths, but the journey is well—wacky and silly and just joyful.

I so love these shows.


8) Are these fractured fairy tales formulaic?


Sure, you know what you will get and that’s part of its charm. The shows are set in Canada or at least the centre of the universe—Toronto.

The basic familiar story will be there, but with topical references. There will be jokes for the adults, political, risqué, and just silliness for the kids. We all boo the villain.

We always try and warn some unsuspecting character that evil is “BEHIND YOU!!!” They will always invite little kids up on stage to answer some questions. The kids will all be cute. The pace will be fast. The cast will be accomplished, And Ross Petty will always be the villain.

So we know what we are getting and it’s fine and dandy.


9) And how does this one stack up?


I think that the script by Lorna Wright and Nicholas Hune-Brown is very tight and packed with perceptive topical jokes. Lots of dialogue seems adlibbed. It’s not…which goes to show how good the cast is.

It’s directed by Tracey Flye with a sharp eye to the jokes, especially visual. We have a cast of terrifically talented people. Elicia MacKenzie is Dorothy—feisty, charming, nobody’s fool. As Splenda, the good witch, Jessica Holmes plays her with a speech impediment and an air-head sweetness.

As Plumbum, Dan Chameroy is pure delight. He is in neon tights, boots, a fright wig and garish makeup. And he simpers and struts. He is brilliant. Worth the price of admission.
And of course Ross Petty plays the Wicked Witch. The character we love to boo and we do. And he replies with a sneer and it’s wonderful.

There are a few holiday traditions in the theatre—The Nutcracker from the National Ballet.

Puppetmongers Theatre and their holiday show.

And Ross Petty’s fractured fairy tales. I never get tired of seeing these shows. And from the packed theatre last night, neither does anyone else. Well worth seeing and a total delight.


Thanks Lynn. That was Lynn Slotkin, our Passionate Playgoer. You can check out her blog at

the sankofa trilogy—of blood claat, benu and word!sound!powah! plays until Dec. 4 at the Tarragon Extra Space.

THE WIZARD OF OZ plays at the Elgin Theatre until Jan. 6.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Miguel Abrams & S. Irwin January 2, 2012 at 10:49 pm

Well, my sweetee … the CIUT podcast was great (Friday, Dec 30th)… S. and I just loved the ad lib comparative comment that which described the difference between A and B like ‘…..’ and Cezchoslovakia. We laughed out loud. As always your spontaneous quick wit and articulate commentary is most entertaining and informative. And, I thought you handled much of the ad lib stuff really well. I always realize from what you tell us, how much is out there in the theater world. You have a way of presenting succinctly the information from which good theater selections can be made by the ‘goers’. Excellent rapport too, with the listener. I always felt I was included, as if you were speaking to me directly. Thank you for the invitation to listen to your CIUT program. Miguel


2 Lynn Slotkin January 21, 2012 at 9:27 pm

Miguel my dear,

Much much thanks for taking the time to listen with your child bride. Much appreciated. And to take the time too to tell me you liked it. Always lovely to hear from you both. See you soon I hope. But in the meantime, keep listening…….