Radio Text Review of: IN THIS WORLD and THE WHIPPING MAN

by Lynn on March 23, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following reviews were broadcast on Friday, March 22, 2013. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 FM. CIUT: IN THIS WORLD at the Tarragon Extra Space until March 24. THE WHIPPING MAN at the Toronto Centre for the Arts until April 14.

The host was Phil Taylor.

1) Good Friday morning, it’s time for our theatre fix with our theatre critic, Lynn Slotkin

Hi Lynn. What do you have for us today?

I have two really fine plays. The first is IN THIS WORLD by prolific playwright Hannah Moscovitch, at the Tarragon Extra Space in a double bill with OTHER PEOPLE’S CHILDREN.That pairing seems so apt since IN THIS WORLD is about two teenaged girls, their sexual awakening; how they relate to their parents and each other.

And the other play is THE WHIPPING MAN by Matthew Lopez at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. It takes place in the southern United States at the end of the civil war and slavery. It’s a gripping play that fits right into Black History Month that was last month, and Passover which is next week.

2) Let’s start with IN THIS WORLD, what’s the story?

We are in a high school in tony Rosedale. Neyssa, tall, willowy, angry roughs up Bijou and slugs her in the eye. Bijou is petite but tries to fight back. Most of the play happens later in the detention room where both are sent before seeing the principal.

This is a terrific play.

Neyssa is a young woman with a chip on her shoulder that’s developed into an inoperable lump. She comes from a rough family. Her brother ran over the family cat on purpose. Their father beat him up and broke a bottle over his head for good measure. She chides Bijou for living in a rich house; for getting everything she wants; for being spoiled. The suggestion is that Bijou is a typical spoiled Asian kid with rich parents. And Neyssa thinks Bijou is a slut because she says she sleeps around.

Bijou stands up to her giving back as good as she gets. Her parents don’t listen to her because they are always working and never home. Bijou is so bold as to play her own race card, commenting on Neyssa being from Jamaica complete with accent and body language.

I wonder why this bully kid Neyssa doesn’t slug Bijou right then since the initial fight was so unprovoked. It’s slowly revealed. These kids are friends. Bijou considers Neyssa her only true friend.

Neyssa thought so too until Bijou started dating Neyssa’s cousin. Neyssa brought her cousin to a party at Bijou’s house. Her parents obviously weren’t home. Something happened at the party involving Neyssa and Bijou’s ex-boyfriend and Neyssa needed her help and Bijou wasn’t there. She was off with the cousin.

When Bijou finds out what happened she insists that Neyssa call the police and report it. She won’t. She wants to forget it. She wants to be expelled and go back to her old neighbourhood where she belongs. What do you do? Dilemmas abound.

3) Who’s the play for?

Playwright Hannah Moscovitch was originally commissioned to write this play by Youtheatre in Montreal and this production is produced by Roseneath Theatre, a Toronto-based company devoted to producing work for young people, their families, teachers and the community.

It’s for young people going through the same angst that Bijou and Neyssa are going through. IN THIS WORLD addresses the issues of teenage sexuality and sexual awakening, rape, sexual assault, friendship, race, kids ignored by their parents; kids cherished by their parents, and what do you do when you are in a situation where you should tell someone.

A lot of decisions are made in this play. It will give its audience their parents, teachers and the rest of us a lot to discuss, and discuss they must.

4) How is the play?

Hannah Moscovitch’s dialogue is note perfect. She has captured the patois of Neyssa and her world and that of Bijou. And while each character is loaded with issues: absent parents; abusive father; rough family life dealing with emotional feelings etc. they are not clichés the way Moscovitch deals with them.

5) And how’s the production?

Director Andrew Lamb establishes the tension between both young women by having them circle each other; try to avoid each other and even getting in each other’s face.

Both actresses are formidable. As Neyssa, Oyin Oladejo is confident, forceful, dangerous and shaken by the experience. As Bijou, Meilie Ng is feisty, reasoned, as combative in a different way as Neyssa, and shattered by her friend’s experience.

As I heard director Andrew Lamb say to a friend after the show, “I can hardly wait to take this into schools.” And he’s right. This is a play for discussion by its teenaged audience, families and teachers.

What would you do if you were either of these characters? Did Bijou and Neyssa do the right things? What should they have done?

IN THIS WORLD is an important play. Take your teenaged kids to see it and talk about it.

6) Tell us about THE WHIPPING MAN. How can it fit into Black History Month (last month) and Passover as well?

It’s the end of the American Civil War in the deep south. Slavery is over. Caleb, who fought for the Confederacy, has deserted and come home, horribly wounded. His family has scattered and the once beautiful mansion is a wreck. The only person left to tend the place is Simon, once a slave of the family, now free. But he stays because he’s waiting for the head of the family, Caleb’s father, to return and give him the money he promised so he, Simon, can begin his free life with his wife and daughter. He thinks his wife and daughter are with Caleb’s father.

There is another character—John, a bitter, shady man a bit younger than Caleb, also a newly freed man who steals and wants to see what he can for nothing. Simon chides him for not thinking like a free man, but thinking like a slave.

Caleb and his family are Jewish. The slaves were raised in that tradition. So to mark Passover, and to celebrate his and John’s passage from slave to free man, Simon wants to conduct a Passover Seder.

I just love that juxtaposition of the Jews marking their passage from slavery in Egypt to freedom, in their Passover Seder and these two former slaves doing the same thing, celebrating their Freedom in the United States.

7) How does it do as a play?

I think Matthew Lopez has written a dandy play that echoes the plight of two peoples—Jews and blacks—and shows how they are so similar.

The play is gripping in its story-telling; full-bodied in its characters; and compelling in what it has to say about freedom, choice moral fibre and responsibility. Simon often asks John is he a slave or a Jew? I love that distinction and it reverberates in this play.

8) Is the production as good as the play is?

I think it’s a very fine production. It’s co-produced by the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company—obviously interested in telling Jewish stories—and Obsidian Theatre which tells the stories of the black experience.

It’s directed with tremendous style energy and intelligence by Philip Akin. Caleb is seriously wounded. Something drastic has to happen to save his life. Akin handle’s the tricky blocking, and direction of that scene beautifully by gripping the audience by the throat, ramping up our emotions and keeping them there with all the twists and turns in the story.

As Simon, Sterling Jarvis gives a performance full of dignity, humanity, grace and heartache. This is one classy actor. As Caleb, Brett Donahue gives a lot of variation to a part that might be mired in just showing desperation and pain. There is sensitivity there, a fleeting streak of meanness, and remorse. And as John, Thomas Olajide is alive with schemes, bitterness, cunning and fear. Lovely performances all.

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

IN THIS WORLD plays a short run in a double bill with OTHER PEOPLE’S CHILDREN, until March 24.

THE WHIPPING MAN plays at the Toronto Centre for the Arts until April 14.

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.