by Lynn on September 17, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the AKI Studio, in the Daniels Spectrum, Dundas St. E., Toronto, Ont.

Written, directed, and performed by Anne-Marie Woods
Performed by Matthew G. Brown.

A well-intentioned look at relationships focusing on the black experience that is overloaded with issues that are generally dealt with in a simplistic way.

Background Note. She Said/He Said is a labour of love by Anne-Marie Woods, who has written, performed in part, and directed it and who also wrote the music and lyrics. While Ms Woods wanted another actress to play the part of She, the lack of government funding and economic realities necessitated she multi-task and play the part of She besides writing, directing and creating the music and lyrics. She also seemed to be her own stage manager. While this is a vanity production, Ms Moore sure does more than her share of the heavy lifting.

The Story. The show is part spoken work, rap, dialogue and songs all working to present what Woods describes as a deep and complex look at relationships between black men and women. Here are the details of the characters: She is originally from Nova Scotia where saying “Hello” to strangers is natural. She now lives in Toronto and the people she says ‘hello’ to, usually black men, ignore her and she’s hurt by it and lonely. She feels inadequate because of the snub and can’t come to grips with the fact that that’s how people act in Toronto (or perhaps any big city). She’s had several failed relationships and is very wary of any new relationship but keeps on searching for love with that one special guy. In one of the many songs in this show She vows not to be “blacktos intolerant”, meaning giving up on black men as her ideal partner as some women have done.

He is also searching for love as well. He did find the love of his life; they moved in together; she became pregnant; and she left him for another guy. He cherishes his daughter from that relationship. He’s still searching for love with that one special woman. She and he meet; are attracted; talk; share their thoughts and concerns; fall in love; and vow to be open and honest etc. She loves He’s little daughter. But….the road to true love is rocky.

The Production and Comment. Relationships is certainly a huge topic to explore and Anne-Marie Woods is determined to look at if from as many angles as possible, referencing that exploration with as many different aspects of relationships as possible.

At first She and He go through a clever bit about what he says to her and what she actually hears. For example, he says, “are you going to wear that?” She hears, “you look fat in that. You don’t look good etc.” Then the tables are reversed about what she says to him and what he actually hears. That’s clever.

On their first date they make small talk and cover safe topics such as their favourite colour; or what they work at. But then their conversation gets deeper and more introspective. She tells He of being wounded in relationships and that it has made her wary and skittish. He talks about his daughter and how much he loves her. Conspicuous by its absence is any idea of how that relationship ended regarding the daughter. The press release indicates an acrimonious custody battle but there is no hint of it in the play and there should be something. That She doesn’t ask about the previous relationship is a misstep in the show.

He remembers the good old days when he went to a club and felt totally confident and empowered as a man when he was in there to dance. Now he doesn’t have that same feeling. She remembers the good old days when she had a better sense of herself. While they fall in love and He wants an open, honest relationship, She is still bedevilled by her previous bad experiences and seems unable to engage fully even though they love each other.

While the effort is good intentioned I find that She Said/He Said flits from topic to topic without a real focus or economy. And some of the choices are just weird. Anne-Marie Woods has written about 15 songs (I’m guessing as there is no song list) I suppose to augment the script. The music is unremarkable and the lyrics repeat what’s already been said before in the dialogue. Often songs introduce a topic that is not well expressed. In one song She sings of the relationship being torn apart and likens it to the separation of people during slavery. I thought, ‘Slavery’?! Really? That’s such a reach for relevance and it doesn’t work. Both She and He sing about love and confess that they don’t know what it really is. Then how can they search for it?

While Anne-Marie Woods is determined to make She Said/He Said about relationships about a black woman and man, we all can find resonances in our own lives, no matter what skin colour.

By the way, He is played very strongly and with conviction by Matthew G. Brown, who also sings beautifully.

While I can appreciate Ms Woods’ determination to get this show done in Toronto, after short runs in Nova Scotia and Montreal, I think she needs to revisit her show and decide what she wants to say and focus on a few topics—she needs a ruthless editor to get rid of the dead-wood dialogue in many cases.

She should review why she has songs and either cut or re-write them.

She needs a more experienced director than herself who will tighten and clarify. Too often She and He begin a scene by talking to each other but then for some reason they individually come forward and talk directly to the audience. Why? Who is really the focus of the dialogue, the characters or the audience. If it’s the characters then the audience will get that it’s also for them without the scene being played directly forward.

I also think the show could benefit from a stronger singer-actress in the roll of She than Anne-Marie Woods. I can appreciate Ms Woods has a lot of singing experience, it’s just that next to Matthew G. Brown her voice sounds thin and uncertain.

As I said,She Said/He Said is good-intentioned but it should be better.

Presented by Imani Enterprises.

Opened: Sept. 14, 2016.
Closes: Sept. 18, 2016.
Running Time: 80 minutes.

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