by Lynn on February 16, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Tarragon Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont. A Rolling world premiere of Redbone Coonhound. An Arts Club Silver Commission as part of a rolling world premiere with Tarragon Theatre and Imago Theatre (Montreal). Playing at Tarragon until March 5, 2023.

Written by Amy Lee Lavoie and Omari Newton

Directed by Micheline Chevrier with Kwaku Okyere

Set by Jawon Kang

Costumes by Nalo Soyini Bruce

Lighting by Michelle Ramsay

Projections by Frank Donato

Animator, Dezmond Arnkvarn

Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne

Cast: Christopher Allen

Kwesi Ameyaw

Lucinda David

Brian Dooley

Deborah Drakeford

Jesse Dwyre

 Chala Hunter

A deliberately broadly performed and directed, often emotionally heightened production that is less a fully realized play and more a check-list of issues, tropes and clichéd characters that will provoke, challenge, trigger and unsettle the audience without actually exploring the issues.

Background: Redbone Coonhound is co-written by Amy Lee Lavoie and Omari Newton who are an interracial couple in real life.  They have this interesting note in the programme: “Navigating life through an intersectional lens means the constant exchange of vastly different lived experiences. We are a daily witness to each other’s growth, joy and heartaches, and as writers we document, mold and repurpose these experiences and memories in ways that help us understand the world around us a bit better. We laugh a lot, too.”

The Story. This is what the synopsis says of the play-I quote it here, because I want to see what they think the play is about:

“Mike and Marissa are an interracial couple, out for a walk in their West End Vancouver neighborhood. (Mike is Black and Marissa is white). They meet a dog with an unfortunate breed name: Redbone Coonhound. This small detail unleashes a cascading debate between them about race and their relationship that manifests as a series of micro-plays, each satirizing contemporary perspectives on modern culture.

Through its hard-hitting comedic elements, Redbone Coonhound explores the intricacies of subtle and overt polemics of race, systemic power, and privilege, in remarkable, surprising and hilarious ways. A wild and subversive journey back through history and into the future, Redbone Coonhound reveals deep fears, rage, insecurities, and ultimately, hope.”

I just wish that Amy Lee Lavoie and Omari Newton actually wrote that play they describe above.

Instead, what the playwrights cover here is a checklist of topics, tropes and cliched characters without actually exploring the issues. It’s like flicking a red flag to engage, but that doesn’t make it a play.

To expand on the story, production and comment. While the play takes place in Vancouver and there are references to the beautiful landscape, Jawon Kang’s stark, brutalist set suggests an ultra-modern setting without any warmth or beauty.  Nalo Soyini Bruce’s costumes are stylish and hip, and I’m sure there is symbolism in that everybody wears red trainers, but the message escapes me.

When Mike (Christopher Allen) and Marissa (Chala Hunter) are out walking they meet the frisky, friendly dog named John and his two owners, Jeffrey (Brian Dooley) and Camille (Deborah Drakeford). Jeffrey and Camille are text-book thoughtless fools with a dog. The dog is not trained nor on a leash. When someone tells them to put their dog on a leash, Camille of yells “Fascist.”

The owners yell “JOHN!!” for the dog to come and he ignores them until they are screaming JOHN!!!!! for him to come and he finally does. When John sees Mike he smells him, is all over him, surrounding him, sniffing, licking, etc. and Mike is terrified. Note: There is no actual dog on stage. With careful choreography/staging from director Micheline Chevrier, with Kwaku Okyere and Christopher Allen’s energetic movement as Mike, it’s suggested that John is all over Mike, and Mike is terrified as his movement gets more and more exaggerated. Thomas Ryder Payne’s sound of a dog barking, gives a sense of John’s size and how Mike would be terrified. Wonderfully done.  

Jeffrey and Camille are insensitive to Mike’s terror, saying that John is really a friendly dog. Marissa tries to be supportive but somehow Mike rebuffs her. When Mike asks what kind of dog it is—and hears Redbone Coonhound, he is horrified. He’s horrified first because of its offensive but actual name and then because it conjures all sorts of images of that kind of dog being used to hunt not only, small animals like a racoon, but also larger ones and it’s suggested, fugitives during the time of slavery in the United States, where the breed was ‘perfected’. This incident stays with Mike. He is testy with Marissa. She says she understands what he must be going through—I’m wondering how she could even imagine what he is going through.

They bicker. It’s a fight that seems odd—surely they would have had this discussion about people’s insensitivity, veiled racism, and systemic power before? Or is Mike’s anger, lingering from elsewhere and is misplaced anger.

In his first appearance with Marissa Mike laments that once again he is engaged to talk about Black History Month to a class of school children who are clueless about the history of Black people in Canada or racism or anything else that pertains to his life. He is tired and done with trying to educate about Black History month. No mention is made of why that is or how it can be changed.  

Mike seems constantly testy about the way he’s treated and Marissa can do nothing to calm him. Mike has conversations with Black friends who also chide him. Aisha (a commanding Lucinda Davis) challenges every complaint of Mike’s. He complains about the power of whites, but she counters by saying that he married a white woman. Mike says that Marissa is different. He says there were no Black women that he found compatible. Aisha notes that she’s standing right there. She has found a Black man as her partner with no trouble and brings him to Mike and Marissa’s house for an evening get together.

That man is Gerald (Kwesi Ameyaw), a police officer who listens patiently to Mike but finally can’t take it anymore and who accuses Mike of being a narcissist in which every problem affects only him. It’s the only conversation in the production that is equally balanced with Gerald being thoughtful in his arguments and Mike never seeing any side of the story but his own. If any idea should be developed, that is certainly it. Mike then calls Gerald a horrible pejorative name and it’s not the ‘n’ word. It’s a word full of contempt. (it’s in the title of the play).

As Mike, Christopher Allen imbues Mike with quiet pride but a constant simmering anger at what he must endure as a Black man in the world. Chala Hunter as Marissa is the ever accommodating partner who is rebuffed and tries to stand up for her rights, and can’t win. Lucinda Davis in various roles is commanding, confident and impressive. Kwesi Ameyaw offers another voice of reason that is clear and perceptive in dealing with Mike and his constant anger.

There are several ‘mini-playlets’ that try to illuminate some aspect of the check-list of issues. Rather than being ‘satiric’ as is described I found them merely laboured and deliberately broadly directed.

There is a scene with a run-away slave looking for Harriet Tubman and her underground railroad. Two over-accented characters—one a man trying to be an ally, the other his female companion, who is demeaned as a woman and treated like a pack horse. Subtext laid on with a trowel.

Another playlet involves the parents of a white girl who has brought home a boyfriend she wants to marry, who is—horrors—white. The parents, also white did not raise her that way. They raised her to go to a Black college (Howard), and marry interracially. Matters spiral out of DNA control as they try to find some trace of Black ancestry in the young man’s family.

Then there is the playlet that takes place in the future, in outer space on a spaceship with only Black personnel to create a pure colony of Black people without a trace of racism.

It’s as if the playwrights wanted to dissect each subject from racism, to internal racism, to misogyny to allyship to Harriet Tubman, or relationships as points of debate. What is missing is a cohesive whole to make the play look like something other than just a checklist of complaints, whines, hurts, insults, and sufferings at the insensitivity of thoughtless people. I also think it wishful thinking that the play ends on a hopeful note—it is a lovely thought but the ending is not earned in the context of what went before.

While I found the synopsis of the play intriguing I also was captivated by the description of how the playwrights navigate and discuss their own many and various experiences, and learn from each other. Now wouldn’t that make an interesting play? All in all, I think Redbone Coonhound needs another go round of thinking, discussion of the two playwrights and then another draft of an actual play.

Tarragon Theatre in collaboration with Imago Theatre (Montreal) in an Arts Club Silver Commission, presents:

Opened: Feb. 15, 2023.

Closes: March 5, 2023.

Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes (no intermission)

Redbone Coonhound plays at the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace until March 5.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Richard February 16, 2023 at 11:52 pm

With the grammatical and typographical competency of a voice-to-text freeware edition and the depth of a grade two book report, let’s have a big hand for Lynn Slotkin. For a blog whose lead banner is a photo collage of five old white people – the rightmost of whom is pictured demanding to speak to your manager – one shouldn’t expect much nuance in Slotkin’s critical analysis of a play about race, power and privilege. Reading Slotkin’s reviews over the years is like watching my 89 year old gran insist on getting behind the wheel of a car: while terrified for the safety everyone on the road with her, I’m buoyed only by her progressive inability to remember where she put her keys. For future archivists finding this internet relic, hoping to learn something of art criticism, allow me to offer this advice: When encountering a Black artist writing about race, characterizing their play as a “checklist of whines and complaints” reveals your biases. Though if future archivists are finding this site hoping to find an example of art criticism, all may already be lost. With all the cultural influence of a MySpace page, the Slotkin Letter should be taken off whatever life support it still clings to on some forgotten AOL Online free server. The lazy ineptitude of these reviews is white privilege in action: In exchange for free tickets, this is what the theatre gets. The fact that nobody takes her seriously should be reason enough to stop enabling Slotkin. There are at least a hundred other reasons, but I’ve already put more effort into this than Slotkin put into her last decade of blog posts and I didn’t even get free tickets for writing it. In closing, go see Redbone Coonhound at Tarragon. It’s an insightful, complex and viciously funny play. In fact, whenever you read a negative post about any play here, you should probably buy tickets for it. Because if you can count on Lynn Slotkin for anything, it’s that she’s missed the point, the mark, and her calling as a spokesperson for generic brand oatmeal.

Your friend,

Richard Ouzonian


2 PHILLIPPA Lloyd Chambers February 19, 2023 at 7:14 pm
3 P. L. Chambers February 20, 2023 at 11:57 am

Follow up here. I don’t mind you disagreeing Mr Ouzounian, but your comments are plain nasty. Sexist and ageist. One thinks back to some of the less generous reviews you wrote in your career and wonders if you might pause to reflect. And are you not verging on patronization, as a white elder man, by stepping in to defend the characters of colour?


4 Lynn February 20, 2023 at 1:38 pm

Folks, consider the information of the writer of the original screed. The real Richard Ouzounian (correct spelling of the name) did not write the rant. Some person using the e-mail address “” did and then signed it this way, “Your friend”, and miss-spelled Richard “Ouzonian“. The writer of the rant alas can’t/didn’t read the review, just reacted to what they thought I wrote. I am responsible for what I write not for what sad souls miss-read, miss-interpret, miss-construe and miss-understand, all clear from the swill they wrote. Lynn Slotkin


5 Phillippa February 20, 2023 at 3:01 pm

I am so happy and so saddened to read this Ms Slotkin. Happy that Mr Ouzounian did not write those comments, saddened that this was cowardly enough to do so in RO’s name, and sorry that I criticized an innocent man. Thanks for the clarification.

6 Lynn February 20, 2023 at 6:25 pm

It’s an angry, sad world in which such trolls are given credibility. Glad I could clarify.
Lynn Slotkin