by Lynn on September 27, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

The Space Between

At the Ernest Balmer Studio, 9 Trinity Street, Studio 315, The Distillery District. Written, co-directed and performed by Simeon Taole. Co-directed by Natalie Ungara. Composition and sound design by Simeon Taole.

Produced by Cinematoscape. Plays at the Ernest Balmer Studio until September 28.

The Space Between is a play about the space between friends when they are separated by huge distances and continents. In his program note for his play, Simeon Taole writes:

The Space Between is a story that has been with me for a long time searching for an audience. As a writer, I have always wanted to share my experience of living as a child in America and apartheid South Africa. I have always felt that the themes of identity, disillusionment and ‘distance’—emotional, cultural, and physical—are universal. As well, the idea of the innocence of young love is relatable across all cultural and geographical boundaries. I hope the perspective of this story will continue to find an audience throughout the life of the play.”

A young man enters the playing area smartly, wearing a dark suit and white shirt. He says his name is Winston.  He begins by speaking of his beloved child-hood friend, Celeste who is the same age as he is. They meet when his family was in America. She is white and he is black. When he is nine-years-old Winston and his family return to South Africa. He is bereft to leave his friend but there always is the mail. Winston cherishes every letter he receives from Celeste, caressing it delicately when he takes it out of his jacket pocket.

He tells us of the political upheaval in South Africa; the unrest of the people; the danger his family might be in; the euphoria when Nelson Mandela is released from prison. He has a terrible moment in which he believes his parents are about to be shot by rebels but it proves to be something else. He tells of his crushing disappointment when one of Celeste’s letter is returned because the address is unknown.  He writes her another letter and puts his faith in the angels to deliver it to where she is. Miraculously he receives a letter from her from a place called “Harvard, Massachusetts”, where she is studying music. They catch up on news. She says she cried when Mandela was elected President of South Africa. She speaks of having a boyfriend. It seems serious. Winston then decides that it is time to travel across the ocean to Toronto (where she has re-located) to see Celeste after all these years. He needs to see where he stands in her life. The play ends with Winston waiting patiently in the Toronto airport for his cherished friend to come and pick him up so they can reconnect.

Simeon Taole tells Winston’s story with enthusiasm. It’s simply co-staged by Taole and Natalie Ungara. There is a screen up stage centre on which will be a few projections; a piano stage right that will be played once and a coat tree stage right that will hold his jacket when he takes it off.

This is really Simeon Taole’s story even though he is giving his character the name of Winston. For the story to go to the next level I think Mr. Taole should do a few things. First he should decide why he wants this to be a one person play and not a short story. His writing style is formal and sometimes often florid. This does not necessarily lend itself to the theatrical presentation. For instance the two ‘dramatic’ sections are too strung out because of too much exposition. The first is when he hears a terrible scream from his parents’ room and believes rebels have gotten in and are ready to kill him. The over description slows down the momentum of the scene. The same for the scene when he is shocked to see that a letter has been returned. Too much exposition describing his feelings.

He also needs the help of an experienced dramaturge or story writer to help him re-write and reshape the story. He leaves too much information out of it that will have his audience puzzled. We don’t know until about five minutes before the end of the play, that, in fact, his father and family went to America because his father was a scientist doing research there. We must  know that at the very beginning of the story. How long were they in America? How old was he when he went to America?  What schooling did he have and what was he trained for? When he gets the letter saying that Celeste was studying music at Harvard, ‘Winston’ goes to the piano and plays a beautiful composition (composed by Taole himself). That comes from no where. Is Winston a music student? We have to know. How old was he when he went to Canada to see Celeste? We have to know so that we can see how long this ‘friendship’ has lasted. Winston seems more invested in the friendship than she is. Is that so? He will have to strengthen that part of the story. We almost never hear of comment from Celeste about the political situation in South Africa besides her crying for joy when Mandel was elected. Was there any? We have to know, otherwise Taole’s comments about the space between cultures and attitudes don’t hold water.  The only people who mention the skin colour issue are Winston’s parents. Celeste doesn’t seem to have mentioned that at all. Is that true? We need to know.

From a purely practical directional position, a few suggestions. The lights went down in the house to indicate to the audience that the show was to begin. The lights then went up slowly on the screen, the piano and over there, the coat tree. We waited and waited and waited for the show to begin. I recon about three minutes. Never keep your audience waiting that much.  If you are not ready to begin on time rethink why. Start on time. Also, there were a few slides projected on the screen , one from Mandela and the other for something else. In both cases Taole stood right in front of me blocking my view of the screen. He has a co-director, Natalie Ungara. She should have tried every single seat to ensure that never happens.  It’s simply fixed but it should never have happened in the first place.

It’s an interesting story that could be told better. I leave it to Mr. Taole to rethink this.

The Space Between continues at the Ernest Balmer Studio in the Distillery District until September 28.

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