by Lynn on February 16, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following two reviews were reviewed on Friday, February 15, 2013. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5FM CIUT. THE POWER OF HARRIET T! at Young People’s Theatre until February 22, and SPENT at the Young Centre for a few performances until February 22.

The host was Phil Taylor.

1) It’s Friday which means it’s time for our theatre fix with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. Hi Lynn. What are you going to tell us about this week?

Hi Phil. I’m talking about two wildly different plays. First THE POWER OF HARRIET T! the story of Harriet Tubman at Young People’s Theatre. And SPENT, about the financial crisis a few years ago at the Young Centre.

2) Let’s start with THE POWER OF HARRIET T! Who was Harriet Tubman?

Harriet Tubman was an African American slave who lived from 1820 to 1913. She was a humanitarian, a conductor on the underground railroad, who led 300 slaves to freedom to Canada mostly (in St. Catharines), over 8 years and never lost a passenger.

She was abused by her masters in Maryland when she was a slave; beaten and injured when a rock was thrown at her that she suffered from headaches and narcoleptic episodes. She married John Tubman a free African American who spent all her money and was a waster. She finally escaped to freedom to Pennsylvania when she was 29.

But then returned to Maryland where she began leading slaves to freedom, by what was called ‘the underground railroad’. It was the name for the trail that several brave people travelled taking slaves to freedom at first in the northern United States, and then to Canada.

3) Now that we know who Harriet Tubman was, what is the play THE POWER OF HARRIET T! about?

It’s written by Michael Miller and of course seems a perfect fit for Black History month. It gives a brief history of who Harriet Tubman was from the time she was a young girl as slave in Maryland, to the ill treatment she experienced from her slave masters etc., to marriage to freedom and the difficulties she had even convincing some of her ‘passengers’ to trust her when she was taking them out of bondage.

I don’t think it’s a Cole’s Notes handling of the story, even though it does briefly touch on aspects of her life.

Tubman was diminutive—5 feet tall—but she was tough, carried a gun and was fearless.

I think Miller’s play does a nice job of showing that fearlessness, tenacity, and resourcefulness, the sheer guts it took to stand up to the people she stood up to.

Slavery of course is a terrible aspect of American history and it’s tempting to show every white person as evil. But the production shows another side to that in some of its music and dialogue. There are scenes showing the kindness of the Quakers in Pennsylvania. Quakers treated everybody fairly. That was a revelation to Harriet.

That reference certainly gave balance to the play. One of the most touching aspects of the play is that when she found her freedom she was always asking people what a sign said. It was a stunning revelation, but of course Harriet was illiterate until she got her freedom.

4) How is the production?

I think it’s a thoughtful, well acted, sensitively directed production. It’s a cast of five in which three of them play several parts. Two actresses play the younger and older Harriet.

As the Younger Harriet, Oyin Oladejo is sparky, energetic, lively and watchful for the next time she’s physically beaten by the master. You see the steely resolve in that young woman that will develop in her older self. Older Harriet is played by Dienye Waboso, still energetic but also now wily, always thinking, smart. Both are lovely performances, and the other actors in their many roles do well too.

It’s directed with flair by Tanisha Taitt. She has a lot of movement in this production that keeps the pace moving and fluid. Scenes flow beautifully from one to the other. Simple props tell you where you are. And Taitt has an eye for detail.

In one scene we get the sense of how much contempt a southern slave owner had for his/her slaves. At one point young Harriet touched the hand of the wife of the slave owner and that woman turned downstage towards us, her back to Harriet, and she wiped that hand on her dress, as if the touch was dirty. I thought that spoke volumes. Tanisha Taitt is a force in the theatre in this city and I look forward to seeing more of her work.

5) And tell us about SPENT.

As I said earlier, it’s about the financial crisis of 2008. This is a remounting of the show of a few years ago created and performed by Ravi Jain and Adam Paolozza two dynamic theatre artists. It’s also co-directed by Dean Gilmour and Michelle Smith of Theatre Smith-Gilmour.

The play of course deals with aspects of the financial meltdown of 2008. It starts with two men in suits and ties standing separately on the stage, each holding a sign. One sign says: “Hire ME: and the other sign says something similar—I couldn’t make it out, and I had a good seat.

The story segues from there. There are TV reports from the BBC about the financial crisis, with reports from the States, Asia and the Far East. Then we see our original two men, once prosperous, are now out of work. They are in despair. They each separately decide to kill themselves by jumping off the ledge of a tall building that happens to be on Bay Street in Toronto.

There’s a whole dream like sequence as they float downward, in which they are in hell, their ideals challenged, their love of money challenged.. the implication that it’s the love of money that is the root of all evil. Until their attitudes about money change. That saves them. Miraculously they do not fall to their deaths. They live. They become revered because of this miracle. They are considered holy men because they survived. Then celebrity kicks in and everybody wants to talk to them. All these news outlets want to talk to them, know their secret. The show goes from there.

6) How do two actors carry off the whole show?

SPENT is very movement based with strong aspects of clown. Theatre-Smith Gilmour is a clown-based company and Adam Paolozza has worked extensively with them. So under the co-direction of Dean Gilmour and Michelle Smith the movement and pace is very quick and very focused.

There’s wonderful business as the two men wiz through the air as they are falling from the building. They flutter out their ties and their jackets suggesting the wind is making them billow. They go quickly and efficiently from character to character. One minute Ravi Jain is a British reporter with the BBC and Paolozza is an Italian reporter from Milan. Instantly they switch to another character from another nationality.

Their physicality is impressive. The idea of the show—greed, money, crisis—is timely and inventive. But I did have difficulty with some of it.

7) How so?

I thought some of their scenes were over-played past the usefulness in getting the point across. There is an extended scene in which money does seem to float out around them and they wallow in it. I thought it went on too long. The scenes in which the reporting from all over the world tended to go on too long as well.

It’s as if the ideas just bubbled up from all of them and perhaps judicious pruning is in order. As I said, they all are gifted, but they would still be gifted if there was a bit less invention and more pruning.

In any case I’m glad I spent time at SPENT.

Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at

THE POWER OF HARRIET T! plays at Young People’s Theatre until February 22.

SPENT plays at the Young Centre in the Distillery District until February 22.

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