by Lynn on February 4, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

Each of these plays: The Tashme Project: The Living Archives, Salt and Canadian Rajah, deal with individual stories of resilience, endurance, shame and tenacity. Taken together they have a common theme of racism in one form or another. Each is a story that needs to be told and heeded.

The Tashme Project: The Living Archives

At Factory Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.

Created and performed by Julie Tamiko Manning and Matt Miwa

Directed by Mike Payette

Video design by George Allister

Sound by Patrick Andrew Boivin

Lighting by David Perreault Ninacs

Set and costumes by James Lavoie

With care and respect the show’s creators, Julie Tamiko Manning and Matt Miwa, retell stories of elder Japanese-Canadians’ internment in Canada during WWII.

The Stories and the Production. Julie Tamiko Manning  and Matt Miwa, the creators and performers of this thoughtful, moving production, wanted to know the hidden, untold stories of internment of their Japanese-Canadian families in Canada. Their experiences in Canada, during WWII of being rounded up; taken out of their homes and put in the Canadian internment camp known as Tashme (an amalgamation of the first part of the last names of the three men who created the place) was not something they readily shared. These people were Canadian citizens and were treated as something else, ‘other’ because they were of Japanese descent. But Manning and Miwa were desperate to know their families’ past—“our legacy” as they write in the program—and so they interviewed family elders, friends of friends and then strangers to find out the stories and pass them along.

The structure of the show is methodical. First the two decided what they needed to do and then they sought out various sources. Unfortunately many of those who experienced the internment camp of Tashme were long dead. Manning and Miwa had to rely on Nisei (second generation Japanese-Canadians and now senior citizens) for the stories of their now dead parents or to share their own experiences.

Initially the interviewees were reluctant to share their experiences they kept buried deep inside for all those years, but then the stories poured out. Julie Tamiko Manning and Matt Miwa then compiled the stories and both present them, each easily shifting from character to character, sometimes playing old men and women, rambunctious children, officials, etc. Julie Tamiko Manning is the more agile and accomplished of the two in conveying the character and the story. Matt Miwa is physically energetic but often talks so fast and swallows his words you can’t understand what he is saying. Their commitment is obvious. The director, Mike Payette, keeps the pace brisk but never so rushed that you can’t appreciate each story and experience.

The stories cover a whole host of experiences. As young children some of the interviewees talk of having a good time playing. Their parents tell a different story—of humiliation, despair, depression and not giving up. One elder said he never talked about it because nobody asked. That was funny in light of the next generation thinking that it was too painful to be asked and reminded of what they went through. The show does have its humour. But on the whole The Tashme Project: The Living Archives is an important show about a telling the stories of those who were interned and giving them respect and informing the rest of us of this black period in our country’s history.

Factory Theatre presents The Tashme Project: The Living Archives produced by Tashme productions:

Opened: Jan. 31, 2019.

Saw it: Feb. 2, 2019.

Closes: Feb. 10, 2019.

Running Time: 90 minutes approx.


This played at the Theatre Centre on Queen Street as part of the Progress Festival, and closed Feb. 2, 2019 when I saw it.

But it transfers to the Toronto Centre for the Arts and plays from Feb. 7-10, 2019.

The Story and performance. Selina Thompson is an astonishing theatre artist, writer, and provocateur. Last year as part of the Progress Festival she brought her ‘show’ Race Cards to the Theatre Centre. It was an installation of 1000 cards on each of which Thompson wrote a question about race.

This year as part of the Progress Festival she brings salt.

From the press information about salt.:

 “A journey to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

In February 2016, two artists got on a cargo ship, and retraced one of the routes of the Transatlantic Slave Triangle – from the UK to Ghana to Jamaica, and back.

Their memories, their questions and their grief took them along the bottom of the Atlantic and through the figurative realm of an imaginary past.

It was a long journey backwards, in order to go forwards.

This show is what they brought back.

saltis about grief, ancestry, home, forgetting and colonialism.

It’s about where colonial history exists in the everyday, the politics of grief and what happens inside Selina’s head every time someone asks ‘where are you from?’ and won’t take Birmingham or her mum’s uterus for an answer. It’s about being part of a diaspora.”

salt. is also about racism, overt, subtle, in your face, angry, hopeless and not giving in to it. Selina Thompson is a woman of colour. When people ask where she is from she accurately says, “Birmingham.” But then when they ask, “No where are you really from…” suggesting that because of her skin colour she had to have come from somewhere else, she persists, or treats the insensitive question with an answer equal to it.

Because Thompson’s birth parents and adoptive parents are from Jamaica, Montserrat, and England she decided to retrace one of the slave ship routes along with another woman of colour (unnamed) a film-maker to create a film/project. They boarded an Italian cargo ship in February 2016 to begin the journey. The Italian captain forbade them to film during the voyage. They could not go up on the deck. They could not wander the ship at will. They had to stay in their windowless cabin. There was no internet. There was no fresh air. They ate with the crew and heard the captain and officers talking in Italian. The repeated use of the ‘N’ word struck her. In subtle ways the captain tried to intimidate her. When they were at the end of the voyage they were not allowed to leave the ship immediately and were forced to stay for many more hours.  She longed to spit in the cruel captain’s face, but didn’t.

The bitter irony is that Thompson was on a ship retracing a slave ship route while she is in a sense held prisoner on the ship and treated with contempt because of her race. When they do reach land she rejoices in the air, sun, good-will of the people and her relatives in Jamaica.

Selina Thompson is an elegant, poetic, vivid writer and compelling performer. Dawn Walton is her equally gifted director. To make her points about the on-going nature of despair, contempt etc. Thompson hauls out a large, heavy rock of salt. At points in the narrative she puts on safety goggles (and instructs the first few rows of people to do the same) and whacks the rock of salt with an almost equally heavy sledgehammer. Bits break off. She notes the constricting chain of contempt from the captain to his officers, to the Filipino crew, to unions to colonialism to imperialism and on and on. She whacks at the salt chunks with every reference, sweat beading on her face. Energy expended with every strike. Salt, the stuff of life, tears and sweat.

salt. is a powerful, moving journey created by a gifted storyteller who knows how to bring her audience into the experience with respect and care. I loved that at my performance Thompson noted there was a young one in the audience (a mother brought her three young children, one of whom was almost a babe in arms) and so the performance would be deemed ‘relaxed’ so as not to add pressure to be quiet. If the ‘young one’ cried out, we would be calm about it. The ‘young one’ was perfect.  At the end Selina Thompson says quietly she will be in the lobby to give us a gift we are to keep safe, a piece of salt. It is a symbol of sweat, tears, despair and hope.

See this!  It’s at the Toronto Centre for the Arts from Feb. 7-10, 2019.

Selina Thompson Ltd., the Theatre Centre and Why Not Theatre present:

 Opened: Jan. 31, 2019.

Closed: Feb. 2, 2019.Running Time: 65 minutes.


Canadian Rajah

At Campbell House Museum, Queen St. and University, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Dave Carley

Directed by Sarah Phillips

Costumes by Jennifer Triemstra-Johnston

Cast: Jon de Leon

Barbara Worthy.

Commenting on this one might be a bit improper. Chick Reid was originally cast but was struck with pneumonia and had to withdraw. Barbara Worthy stepped in on Wed. Jan. 30 to take her place. I saw this on Sunday, Feb. 3 and Ms Worthy was ‘on book’ (she held the script in her hand) but had that character in her finger tips.

By rights I shouldn’t ‘review’ it or comment, but I will in vague terms because the play is fascinating and the production is accomplished.

The Story and Performance.  This took place in the grand ballroom in Campbell House Museum, a terrific venue if you have never been and so suitable for the play. Dave Carley has written a fascinating play based on a true story.

It’s a two character play involving Ranee Ghita (born Marguerita) the British widow of the (British-born) second Rajah of Sarawak and Esca Brooke the illegitimate son of the Rajah. Sarawak is an important state in modern Malaysia.

Esca Brooke has come from Canada to London, Eng. to ‘gently’ request her to recognize him as the rightful son of her husband. He has papers that prove it.

Both characters give their stories to us separately.  Ranee is played by Barbara Worthy and Esca Brooke is played by Jon de Leon. She is regal, imperious and beautifully turned out in traditional Sarawak garb. She knows that Esca Brooke is waiting to see her. She indicates her contempt for him and keeps him waiting on purpose. He knows it and is ready to leave in disgust but stays. He is beautifully attired in a smart suite and vest. He is a prosperous businessman, but certainly feels the sting of racism by being kept waiting on purpose. When Esca Brooke is finally ushered in to see Ranee she is all tight smiles (Worthy does this beautifully) and treats him with veiled contempt and disregard as she would anyone she feels is inferior.

De Leon has the confident bearing of a smart, hard-working self-made man. But it’s a fragile stance when faced with the determined arrogance and racism of a pompous member of the British aristocracy as Ranee is. Both have embarrassing information to reveal to the other; both try to one-up each other. It’s a match of wills. She thinks she has the upper hand, but we all know what happened to the mighty British Empire.

It’s a fascinating story of Esca Brooke, a man of mixed blood foisted off to strangers to get rid of him as an embarrassment and taken to Canada where his adopted parents emigrated. He’s successful; a loving husband and father, but he craves legitimacy and he will have it from this rude, condescending racist snob.

Bravo to Dave Carley for discovering this gem of a story and writing this fascinating play, and bravo to the two actors who faced several challengers to bring it to life.

Produced by the Canadian Rajah Collective presents:

Plays to Feb. 17. 2019.








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