Broadcast Text Review: ESU CROSSING THE MIDDLE PASSAGE, and DAS DING (The Thing)

by Lynn on April 15, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

Friday, April 15, 2016, CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 fm, Esu Crossing the Middle Passage at the Storefront Theatre until April 17 and Das Ding (The Thing)at the Berkeley Street Theatre, Upstairs until May 1.

Good Friday morning. It’s theatre fix time with Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. What’s up this week?

I have two shows seemingly about journeys.

One is Esu Crossing The Middle Passage by d’bi young anitafrica as part of the Orisha Trilogy. It’s about Esu, the Orisha goddess or sometimes trickster Who crossed the ocean from Africa as a slave.

And then Das Ding (The Thing in English) by contemporary German playwright, Philipp Löhle.

About the mythic journey of a ball of cotton in various guises from the point of picking and how that ball has come into contact with many and various characters.

What’s the story of Esu (pronounced EEESHOO)?

It’s about Esu, Nigerian spirit, goddess, trixter, who disguised as a slave crossed from Africa to America. In the story-telling, Esu is called on for help, guidance,
and wisdom.

Involved as well is a specific focus on black existence through history. There is a sobering listing of actual laws from various countries and how they regarded blacks.

One law in the 1700s declared that a black person was equivalent to fraction of a white person. In the present day a startling statistic indicated that of the 2 million people in prison in the United States, 1 million were black.

There is reference to the Black Lives Matter movement. But the point of Esu Crossing the Middle Passage, is not as a polemic.

It’s to present a history and then offer the thoughtful teachings of Esu, to use your head and heart in your dealings with people.
To be a person of character.

It’s very spiritual, historical and contemporary. So the sobering history is offered and a way not to repeat such inequality.

How does this production tackle such a huge subject?

It’s performed by d’bi young anitafrica using dub poetry, song, music, dance, spirituality, percussion. She is accompanied by Tuku and Amina Alfred, both of whom are musician/vocalists.

It starts in the lobby of the small Storefront theatre. I won’t tell you how, but sufficed to say that d’bi young anitafrica has the guts of a bandit.

She trusts her audience to engage and to keep her safe. When the action moves into the theatre proper, we follow her and sit around the space. With quiet intensity anitafrica commands that audience to focus, listen, engage, and commit.

The space is designed by Rachel Forbes to look like the inside of a ship (slave ship?) but there are spiritual objects around the space to keep the space safe.

The choreography of BaKari I. Lindsay is a mix of traditional, spiritual dance, and it includes the audience both black and white.

So how does it tackle such a huge subject? First it gives us the facts of the history and then it gives the life lessons of Esu, the goddess.

A compelling performer such as anitafrica embraces the whole audience. She is saying gently, through Esu, that to change a terrible history one must think with the head as well as the heart.

One must be a person of character. When anitafrica says this, she approaches the audience quietly on three sides of the playing space and repeats it almost like a mantra.

She does not focus on one group or the other—I was heartened to see that the audience was very mixed with both blacks and whites and biracial people. This isn’t the story of one race at the expense of the other. This is the story of people who must work together for a better life and history.

I understand she has talk backs after every show. How does that add to the show?

It gives the audience a chance to speak and express their thoughts.

Anitafrica and her two colleagues do not need to explain their show and don’t. The show speaks for itself.

It is interesting to see how some reacted with open hearts and others had issues with one faction of the audience over others.
I thought that interesting? Sad? Because they didn’t seem to get the message of the whole embracing the whole.

If anything we learned of the care and detail that went into keeping the space safe and even sacred because producing theatre as specific as this based in tradition, in a way is sacred.

Terrific show. I’m sorry I was so booked up I saw it late in the run.

Now to Das Ding (The Thing). What is it?


It’s a contemporary play written by Philipp Löhle.

From the press information: “Philipp Löhle’s highly ambitious social comedy spans an interconnected world that binds the fates of an African woman, Chinese business people, Romanian pig-breeders and two young newlyweds. As a global crisis attaches itself to the smallest marital problems on a deeply personal level, all are forced to consider whether such a thing as coincidence can exist in a globalized world. Meanwhile the eponymous ‘thing’ a cotton fibre in its apparently endless iterations—looks on humanity, amazed.”

In your dreams.

It follows the ball of cotton grown and picked in one country, shipped to another, then formed into a t-shirt in another country and sold elsewhere. I didn’t find it funny, or a social comedy or really clearly interconnected.

An honestly, if people living in the world haven’t figured out that coincidence does exist in the globalized world, then they haven’t been paying attention. Playwright Philipp Löhle hasn’t helped much with his writing of his characters either.

How so?

Five hardworking actors play about 14 characters. The problem is that Löhle, for the most part, has not written any character so that they are actually different than any other. Except in one historic scene between Ferdinand Magellan and his King when there is a difference between the playing and the actual dialogue, there is precious little differentiation between characters, what they feel, believe or think in subsequent contemporary scenes.

I found it intellectual, sterile navel gazing—I don’t think navel lint is the same as a globe-trotting ball of cotton in various forms.

There is a germ of idea I think, but the press information is clearer in establishing what this maddening play is about, than the play.

Dare one ask about the production?

The production is terrific. It’s directed by Ashlie Corcoran who is a bundle of creative imagination with a vivid sense of style. And designed by the equally creative Drew Facey who has the cotton ball used to conceal and reveal characters.

We enter the room and are greeted by King Manoel I. He sits atop a huge round form that is representative of a ball of cotton. The king wears his crown and robe that flows down to drape around the cotton ball. Projections tell us where we are and who the characters are.

And while we can see that different people play different characters, the playwright has not actually created characters with different attitudes, thoughts or personalities.

All the actors are earnest, committed and full of conviction.
But earnest, committed and full of conviction about what is the problem I have with this play. I can’t recommend this.

See Esu Crossing the Middle Passage.

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

Esu Crossing the Middle Passage plays at the Storefront Theatre 955 Bloor St. W. until April 17.

Das Ding (The Thing) plays at the Berkeley Street Theatre until May 1.

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