by Lynn on December 8, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

Black Boys

At Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Created by Stephen Jackman-Torkoff, Tawiah Ben-Eben M’Carthy, Thomas Olajide with Virgilia Griffith and Jonathan Seinen.
Directed by Jonathan Seinen
Choreography by Virgilia Griffith
Set and costumes by Rachel Forbes
Sound and Video design by Stephen Surlin
Lighting by Jareth Li
Cast: Stephen Jackman-Torkoff
Tawiah Ben-Eben M’Carthy
Thomas Olajide

Three black men ruminate, argue, rage and joke about being black men, their identity and sexuality. Often I thought it was a show for just the three of them rather than having a wider, mixed audience.

We are greeted as we enter the theatre by a charming, funny, welcoming Stephen Jackman-Torkoff. He wears an interesting ensemble of a long, brown skirt, a matching unbuttoned shirt, underneath is his bare chest. He’s eating an apple. He adjusts a large bristle board with writing on it as part of the set. He dances to music while greeting the audience.

When the show starts he is joined on stage by Tawiah Ben-Eben M’Carthy and Thomas Olajide. Of the three, Jackman-Torkoff is the most joyful and optimistic. He is also the most flamboyant, changing into various frocks and for one scene (for some reason), wearing nothing at all—which is pretty flamboyant. M’Carthy wears a colourfully patterned pair of trousers. He is going out dancing. He is proud of his Ghanaian heritage and is the most philosophical, dare I say, thoughtful of the three. Thomas Olajide is the angriest of the three, often raging at the other two. I get the sense that often this is an argument/discussion between the three of them and not necessarily with a broader world that causes their angst. They talk about race, the black man’s body, physicality, perceptions and masculinity among others. I wonder who their target audience is.

Olajide references the hymn “Amazing Grace” for some of his ire. A projection regarding the background of the hymn is flashed on the back wall (the projection certainly could be brighter and sharper to read). It says the hymn was written in 1779 by a white clergyman named John Newton. Again I could have missed this because of the poor projection but I thought it did not go far enough in its history, leaving out crucial information that really informs the hymn. Before John Newton was a minister in the Anglican Church he was a slave ship captain. He took slaves from Africa to various ports where they were sold. On one trip his ship was caught in a fierce storm and he thought he was going to die. He prayed to be saved and promised to give his life to God. He was saved. His life changed, but he did not give up his job as the slave ship captain so soon. He eventually gave up the slave trade when he married. He became ordained and wrote many hymns including “Amazing Grace.”

It seems to me that Olajide is angry that the lyrics of the hymn suggest the supposed focus of the hymn is a black audience. His raging is not clear. Considering the history of the man who wrote it, the lyrics of the hymn suggest to me that the person who was ‘blind but now can see’ and who was a ‘poor wretch’ was in fact John Newton.

The production of the show is accomplished with inventive direction by Jonathan Seinen and vivid choreography by Virgilia Griffith, that is beautifully realized by the three actors.

The three actors are certainly committed in discussing black sexuality, body image, masculinity etc. Their extensive program note laments the lack of opportunities for black actors and more broadly actors of colour; that they are woefully under-represented on stages. So these three actors made their own luck/work by creating this show and having the opportunity to present it at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. Stephen Jackman-Torkoff, Tawiah Ben-Eben M’Carthy and Thomas Olajide are bold and defiant in their presentation and certainly provocative in the title of their show.

Now if we can only do something about the predominantly white audience who came out to cheer it.

Saga Collectif and Buddies in Bad Times Theatre present:

Opened: Nov. 24, 2016.
Closes: Dec. 11, 2016.
Cast: 3 men.
Running Time: 2 hours approx.

Who Killed Spalding Gray?

At the Berkeley Street Theatre, Downstairs, Toronto, Ont.

Written and performed by Daniel MacIvor
Directed by Daniel Brooks
Lighting by Kimberly Purtell

A sort of homage to the late monologist Spaling Gray performed by our own gifted monologist Daniel MacIvor in a surprising less than satisfying evening.

SPOILER ALERT!!! Spaulding Gray actually killed himself on January 11, 2004 by jumping off the Staten Island Ferry.

The set up is as if Spalding Gray was giving the monologue. Centre stage there is a metal chair at a wood desk. On the desk are a glass of water, a microphone and a pile of foolscap on which notes are made. Or perhaps it’s the actual monologue printed out.

There is another chair to the side of the stage. Daniel MacIvor comes out and exchanges pleasantries with the audience and as Spalding Gray did, picks someone out of the audience to come on stage, sit in the other chair and tell who he/she is (for my performance it was a gentleman) and to tell if he knows who Spalding Gray was.

MacIvor makes a note on the bottom of the foolscap at the end of that segment then continues the show. The other chair remains empty. At one point he slowly drinks the glass of water on the desk. Besides quenching his thirst this also sets up a bit of business at the end of the show I won’t spoil by revealing the purpose.

He then begins his own monologue which is so full of meandering storylines—a former lover, a psychic, a spirit that must be excised– it’s hard to follow. That’s unusual for a MacIvor monologue. He imbues his show with his disarming charm and impishness. It’s directed with precision by Daniel Brooks with his usual sharp eye, but the point of it is a puzzlement.

Is it about death and loosing someone dear? MacIvor asks his guest from the audience to speak about someone he lost recently. MacIvor also mentions that he lost someone dear to him recently. It’s no secret that person is Iris Turcott, the dramaturge on this show and to whom it is dedicated. Turcott seems to have worked with every major and emerging writer across the country before she died in September. It’s no secret that MacIvor held that woman dear. I would like to think that the other chair on stage that is empty for most of the show is reserved for the absent Iris Turcott. That is a poignant gesture.

MacIvor suggests he might be jealous of Spalding Gray. He has no need. MacIvor’s work stands sturdily on its own. It’s a mystery why he is referencing Spalding Gray at all. Perhaps that’s the problem of the piece; it’s neither all MacIvor or Gray. It’s a mishmash and as a result it’s a disappointment.

Canadian Stage Company Presents:

First Performance: Nov. 30, 2016.
Closes: Dec. 11, 2016.
Cast: 1 man.
Running Time: 80 minutes.

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