Revised Reviews of 21 Black Futures.

by Lynn on February 12, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

Streaming on from today, Feb. 12, 2021.

Revised to review all seven episodes of “Season One.”

21 Black Futures is the brainchild of Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu, the new Artistic Director of Obsidian Theatre. 2021 is the company’s 21st  anniversary.

So Mumbi Tinyebwa Otu invited 21 Black writers, directors and actors to create 21 monodramas as short films (about 10 minutes long) (since we can’t see them in a theatre) to explore the future of Blackness. The first seven short monodramas are being shown on CBC Gem from today, Feb. 12. The next seven will be shown on Feb. 19 and the last seven will follow Feb. 26.

After seeing the initial seven monodramas I can say that the talent is prodigious. They offer a cross-section of pieces that range from almost whimsical but with a punch, a dub poetry performance-dance piece, a piece about a woman who has tried to control her emotions in a stressful job until she lets loose and various looks into the future to rediscover ones culture, language, stories and compassion.

The Death News is written by Amanda Parris, directed by Charles Officer, performed by Lovell Adams-Gray.

The piece is about an opportunity for Black men and women to pre-record their own obituaries so that the media doesn’t diminish them to stereotypes and they are remembered for how the person intended.  Dante Cooper frets about what to wear for his pre-recording. He wonders how to describe himself, what he wants people to remember about him. It’s full of whimsy with a subtle seriousness that creeps up on you.

Amanda Parris has written a compelling piece that is a gut-punch when you realize what her idea of the future of Blackness is. Dante says: “I’m hoping my existence won’t be dismissed.” He wants to be remembered for loving hard.

Lovell Adams-Gray is both charming and moving as Dante. He leads us deeper into the piece when he talks about his regrets, his disappointments, his lost chances.  The piece is playful and sobering.

Jah In the Ever-Expanding Song is written by Kaie Kellough, directed by d’bi young anitafrica and performed by Ravyn Wngz.

Jah is Rastafari for God or Jehovah.

Against a circular backdrop that pulses with colour images and shapes, performer (Ravyn Wngz) wears white face markings and an elaborate costume that one might assume is religious as she speaks a dense dub poem. The language is rich. For example: “What good is music if you can’t ride inside its lushness.” Or this breath-taking line: “A police officer with his knee on the world’s neck.” I loved this line: “dub honeyed the air around me.” Ravyn Wngz is compelling in her movements and the poetry.    

The Sender by Cheryl Foggo, directed by Leah-Simone Bowen and performed by Amanda Cordner.

Cil Brown is “the sender” of racists to White Supremacist Island. It’s a time in the future and she sits in front of an elaborate computer console reviewing case files of people who have transgressed against a strict code of conduct. She deals with each transgressor with tact, respect, and a no-nonsense attitude when it comes to people who interrupt and get high-handed.

White Supremacist Island is livable with high-rises and a pool on the roof. But the elevator doesn’t have doors so there is some risk and the ‘entertainment’ is dull. “Residents of White Supremacist Island forfeit all inventions, improvements and popular entertainment that can be directly linked to Indigenous, black and persons of colour.” Brilliant.

But then Cil has to deal with a difficult file involving a racist friend. Cil handles it with composure grace, and compassion. The presence of compassion through Amanda Cordner’s performance is compelling. One gets wistful wishing it was that easy to get rid of racism.

This is a wonderful piece by Cheryl Foggo.

Beyere by Shauntay Grant, directed by Lisa Karen Cox, performed by Natasha “Courage” Bacchus.

It’s 2080 in Shauntay Grant’s moving piece about keeping ones’ culture vibrant through language and story. Time is running out for Aodri, her future is uncertain. She must convey to her 10-year-old-daughter Bena the importance of language and the history of their diminishing Ebanu people to keep the memory and language alive. To add another sense of urgency Bena cannot speak. Aodri communicates with her in sign language. In the opening scene Aodri is making dinner. We hear the sizzle of the salmon frying in the pan. When she begins signing to Bena, director Lisa Karen Cox cuts all sound out. The piece is made vivid with Natasha “Courage” Bacchus’ hands moving gracefully through the air as she signs to her daughter (a translation is provided at the bottom of the screen).

Shauntay Grant has illuminated the importance of story, language, heritage, history and hope in this compelling piece. Beyere means “hope.”

Madness with Rocks by Peace Akintade, directed by Jamie Robinson and performed by Dion Johnstone.

Peace Akintade takes this idea of a people’s history erased even further than Shauntay Grant does in Beyere. It’s 100 years in the future and the last African warrior is trying to find reminders of his story and history. In Jamie Robinson’s direction the set seems desolate except for large clear panels at the back and a small rock in the centre. Peace Akintade has written the episode in lush poetry. (“We are born without a second look and tossed into the quicksand of our colour”; “The flow of the wheat has always been my lullaby”). Drums remind the warrior (a vital Dion Johnstone) to search for his history’s fables, language and culture in the face of extinction. In one instance the warrior expresses the power of words as Johnstone gracefully flips out his arms, as if to disperse the words on the air, like so many butterflies.

Witness Shift by Donna-Michelle St. Bernard, Directed by Sarah Waisvisz, performed by Uche Ama. This is Donna-Michelle St. Bernard’s vision for the future of Blackness when the police are not called as a matter of course as the only option for handling a situation; when a better, more humane way is found.  A veteran Emergency Services Dispatcher is training a young rookie over the course of a usual day. He wonders if anything will every change. She tells him: “I see change every day.” And after seeing this usual day, we believe her. In her interactions with callers the dispatcher acts as a witness to see them in their distress or concerns. Whether it’s: a man having to move his things out of the house in a broken relationship; or dealing with a mental illness issues in which a person might do self-harm and sending a support worker quickly to give assurance to the person in distress; or assuring a child they are not ugly; or communicating in sigh language in full-screen with a person who went to the only hair-dresser that did not have ‘sighing’ capabilities, and not to worry an interpreter would be sent,  or trying to find a lost dog, each story is important, vital and treated with the gentlest of compassion and understanding.

Donna-Michelle St. Bernard has envisioned a world of hope and care; director Sarah Waisvisz created that world and Uche Ama realized it with determined gentleness and compassion. The piece left me weeping.

Sensitivity by Lawrence Hill, directed by Mike Payette and performed by Sabryn Rock.

Gabrialla is in a rage. She’s missed her train and wonders if a train can be racist. We realize this is misplaced anger. She’s just been fired with cause as Director of Equity and Diversity, a job she held for six years.

Lawrence Hill writes of the very tricky world of Equity and Diversity and how to navigate that world when racism is everywhere. People who have to take Gabrialla’s course on sensitivity want to make a living wage not to be compelled to take a sensitivity course. The world in which Gabrialla works is smoldering in animosity and anger. She tries to control her emotions, until she finally explodes and that gets her fired with cause. But rather than be defeated by this she delves deeper into herself, comes to a realization, and writer, Lawrence Hill ends it perhaps with a question of what Gabrialla will do next.  Sabryn Rock is terrific in rage and brings nuance and subtlety to her performance.  

This is a wonderful beginning to the series. In every instance of loss, destruction of history, language, personal story, disappointments and situations that left one angry, there was hope, resolve, tenacity and determination to endure.  I’m looking forward to the other monodramas of 21 Black Futures.  

21 Black Futures begins from today, Feb. 12 on

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