Review: shaniqua in abstraction

by Lynn on April 17, 2024

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Streetcar Crowsnest Studio, Toronto, Ont. Produced by Crow’s Theatre in association with paul watson productions and Obsidian Theatre Company,  until April 28, 2024.

Written and performed by bahia watson

Directed by Sabryn Rock

Set by Echo Zhou

Lighting by Kimberly Purtell

Video design by Laura Warren

Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne

Choreographer, Jaz Fairy J

Shaniqua in abstraction by bahia watson is a fierce and poetic look at the Black experience from a woman’s point of view. It’s created and performed by bahia watson, a powerhouse actor, creator, writer and observer of the world, especially in this work of Black womanhood.

The press information describes this as “a kaleidoscopic explosion of experiences and shifting identities that defiantly push back the boundaries defining Black womanhood.”

It starts off with a woman auditioning for a part. She assumes various poses and delivers simple words in varying ways. A voice from an unseen person conducting the audition asks for the woman to play it with “more sass.” From that I assume the person conducting the audition is white because the word ‘sass’ is insensitive when suggested to a Black woman. Language is changing according to the changing times. “Sass” is an inappropriate word. The actor auditioning—shaniqua—is accommodating, helpful and agreeable. She wants the job. She plays the scene with “more sass”.

Then shaniqua goes off on a tangent, quietly, understated but with conviction and comments on perception, judgement, impressions etc. She says that she has no control over how she is perceived by others. We live in a judgmental world. A person sees someone and sizes them up by skin colour, clothes, behaviour, actions etc. even though they don’t know them. While bahia watson as shaniqua is talking about the Black woman’s experience that line could also be applied to anyone, any woman. That is one of the beauties of the show.

She presents a very confident stand-up comedienne who is razor sharp and fast with an angry set about race, Blackness and white supremacy. There is a section on colourism and shadism about the preference of light skin over dark skin. Interestingly this is done seemingly from the white point of view as a colonial conversation without putting it in a conversation between Black people. There have been plays that focus on this question from a Black perspective shaniqua in abstraction ignores this conversation and only references colonialism. I thought that was interesting. And she delves into the pairing that created light skinned and dark skinned women.

There is a section questioning why Black men prefer white women and not Black women. There is a section on a confident, frustrated Black woman living with a Black man who is emotionally abusive and condescending.  Race factors heavily in the lives of these Black women as observed by bahia watson. watson explores the history of blackface, Slavery and the underground railroad.

The observations of bahia watson are razor sharp perceptions, full of humour and stunning writing. This is really a work of fierce, hard-hitting, funny, observations expressed in exquisite poetry. The writing is stunning. It’s directed with equal style and detail by Sabryn Rock who keeps the pace going like the wind, but every second is noted and presented with care.

This is a bristling piece of theatre.

 Produced by Crow’s Theatre in association with paul watson productions and Obsidian Theatre Company.

Plays until April 28.

Running time: 90 minutes (no intermission)

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.