by Lynn on April 28, 2024

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Factory Theatre, Studio Theatre, Toronto, Ont. Playing until May 19, 2024. Produced by Pleiades Theatre.

Written by Peter N. Bailey

Director and dramaturg, Ash Knight

Set by Anahita Dehbonehie

Costumes by Des’ree Gray

Lighting by Dave Degrow

Sound by Stephon Smith

Cast: Jamar Adams-Thompson

Kyle Brown

Bryan (Jamar Adams-Thompson and Tyson (Kyle Brown) are close friends, like brothers. They are out on the town because Bryan will be moving to Vancouver the next day with his wife Natalie and daughter Essie. As they go from a party to the bus stop to take them to a restaurant, they talk a lot. And there is a lot of animosity in their banter. Tyson is a raging volcano of anger. He has lost jobs because of it. Has never had a happy relationship because of it. He’s been in jail which fed his anger. What Bryan and Tyson seem to do for the whole evening is argue about slights, both real and perceived, that have affected Tyson. He challenges everything about Bryan. Bryan never visited him in prison and that really played heavily on Tyson. Bryan takes Tyson to a party knowing someone is there that Tyson doesn’t like. They argue about that. They talk about God, hope, love, opportunities, self-worthy and not said, but certainly obvious, is living as a Black man in Toronto or anywhere, and what they have to endure.

And while the dialogue whizzes through the air, there does not seem to be a play there to hang all this on. There is the back and forth of Tyson’s rage for the world, and Bryan’s efforts to laugh it off or show him that’s not true, but the larger picture is missing.

Why didn’t Bryan visit Tyson in prison? Bryan is giving up a dream to go to school to be a graphic artist to go to Vancouver—why? Why did Bryan not tell his wife about his acceptance into the graphic arts program? Tyson feels he has no self-worth. That should be explored in the context of those around him. There are so many unanswered questions that when answered could strengthen the work.

To be fair, this is Peter N. Bailey’s first play. He’s a trained actor and I’ve been lucky enough to have seen him in many plays, the most recent in The Real McCoy at the Blyth Festival. With Tyson’s Song Peter N. Bailey shows a real facility with bracing language that uses street talk, the slang of “the Islands,” punchy dialogue and smart thinking and logic. Both Bryan and Tyson are equally matched linguistically and argumentatively.

Anahita Dehbonehie has designed a spare production with a bench, a pole with a TTC sign on it designating a bus stop, and a curb. The production put things in perspective. As Bryan and Tyson wait for the bus and banter, they have a six-pack of beer that they drink. But every time a car comes by, they both nervously stand up, either from the bench or the curb, in case it might be the police or others looking for a fight. And once Bryan hid the bottle of beer in his hand, behind his back.

That fear reminded me of the 2018 American play Pass Over by Antoinette Nwandu a Black version of Waiting for Godot in which two men are waiting on the corner for a better life on the other side of the road. In the meantime, they are harassed and threatened by a white policeman who terrifies them. I got that sense of fear with Tyson’s Song. Unsaid but so obvious is how the system has failed Black men like Tyson at least.  He obviously needs help with anger management but never got it.He never got help or protection in prison.He never got help when he was out of prison.We are led to believe that Tyson only had Bryan, his wife and daughter as positive presences in his life.Was there an effort to get him help or urge him to get it?His isolation has taken its toll.

Tyson’s Song is directed with verve and energy by Ash Knight. It’s almost as if they are in a boxing match and they keep challenging and circling each other.

Both Jamar Adams-Thompson as Bryan and Kyle Brown as Tyson are terrific. Jamar Adams-Thompson plays Bryan with humour, a jokiness and ease. As Tyson, Kyle Brown is liked a tightly wound coil ready to snap. He is consumed with pent up rage and passed transgressions. It’s a dangerous and heart-breaking performance. The dialogue goes like the wind between these two gifted actors who never let up the pace or miss a beat. It’s terrifically bracing.

I hope that Peter N. Bailey gives the play another re-write, fleshing out the dialogue to develop into a play, because he has the beginnings of an intriguing, important work.   

Pleiades Theatre presents:

Plays until May 19, 2024.

Running time: 75 minutes (no intermission)

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