by Lynn on September 28, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Tarragon Mainspace, Toronto, Ont. Playing until Oct. 15, 2023.

A Tarragon Theatre/NAC presentation of the NAC/Neptune Theatre Production.

Written and performed by Walter Borden

Director, Peter Hinton-Davis

Set, costume, lighting and projection design, Andy Moro

Sound design and composer, Adrienne Danrich O’Neill

Poetic, raw and glistening with life and imagination.

As the audience settles in their seats, talking, greeting people across the theatre, a man slowly enters and stands at the top of the cross aisle. He wears a cap of a porter it looks like? Part of a uniform of a service provider?  Two bags are slung over his shoulder. He carries a paper cup of coffee in one hand and an old-fashioned lunch bucket in the other. He slowly walks along the cross aisle, down the far aisle, up the stairs leading to the backstage area, and he stops, regards the now quiet audience, takes a swig of his coffee and nods to the audience and disappears behind the door leading to backstage.

Actor, playwright, educator, poet, Walter Borden has arrived as one of the ten characters he will play in this challenging, bracing, poetic evening depicting the life, challenges and resilience of a  Black person and the human spirit.

After this, the opening night remarks are made by Artistic Director Mike Payette and Andrea Vagianos, Managing Director of the Tarragon. (I wish the remarks were made first and then Walter Borden would enter so that his entrance would have been seamless.)

Walter Borden enters the stage from the house right wings, and walks into a little ‘office’? upstage where he turns on a radio that plays opera. A soprano is singing an aria. Borden listens intently, in a revery. He takes a pile of books carefully out of one of the bags on his shoulder. They are books dealing with the Black experience. He gives the title of one and then says with affection, “Jimmy Baldwin.” He opens the lunch pail and takes out a jar of something. Once settled, he sits on a stoop and tells us that he is addressing those in ‘the diaspora’, people who are Black. As specific as Walter Borden is with whom this is for, others will find resonance to their own lives in his exquisite storytelling.

He has words of praise for hardworking women, no matter the job, in their efforts to raise their children. He has words of scorn for those bling-wearing rockers who view women as property and ‘ho’s’. His language, always poetic and complex, is blistering when taking these mono-syllabic men to task and putting in perspective the sainted women who raised and protected them.

Borden depicts a woman who uses sex to make her living when she was treated badly by a welfare officer. The woman realized that her income was ‘between her legs’. The story is funny, bitter-sweet, vivid in the telling and empathetic. He talks of the woman’s child who she cherished and loved, and who grew up to be successful in her job. The irony of the job and the story is wonderful.

He talks of being gay at a time and place that was not understanding. The hazards and dangers of wearing a pink shirt.

Walter Borden has been writing this autobiographical story in various iterations since 1986 where the original title was Tightrope Time Ain’t Nuthin’ More Than Some Itty Bitty Madness Between Your Twilight & Your Dawn. For the past four years he has been working with director, Peter Hinton-Davis to hone, refine and distil the story, but still keep its vivid poetic world. I can’t think of another director who illuminates and thinks in such poetic images as Peter Hinton-Davis.

This production is a perfect melding of Andy Moro’s set, costume, lighting and projection design, the ethereal sound and music of Adrienne Danrich O’Neill and Peter Hinton-Davis’s meticulous direction that always serves the piece. Magic appears subtly as a fur coat is put on Walter Borden as miraculously as if it’s floating in air. Later it’s taken off and another coat is put on, again, as if by magic. It’s the world of conjuring. Walter Borden navigates that world with determination and daring. I’m impressed at how often Borden gets down on all fours, or sits on a low step. He’s a person in his senior years and his dexterity is amazing.

Walter Borden speaks and thinks in poetic expression. The language is complex, esoteric, biblical, mystical, mischievous and intoxicating. You want to hear each line and its message again, just to revel in the language and sound of Borden’s crisp enunciation so we don’t miss one word.

In a kind of summation, Walter Borden says, “I’m just a Black man, talking.” Irony again.  The Epistle of Tightrope Time is so much more.

A Tarragon Theatre/NAC presentation of the NAC/Neptune Theatre Production.

Plays until Oct. 15, 2023.

Running time: 90 minutes (no intermission)

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