50/50, Kat’s Graffiti’s gig & Another Africa

I’ve been one busy little artsy fartsy this week, chickens – an exercise made most convenient by the fact that I’m off this week.

One of the things I love about living in Toronto is having the ability to go to matinees on a weekday; I took advantage of that on Monday and again today, with a movie and a trip to the theatre.

Monday I saw 50/50 at the Rainbow Market Square. The movie stars Joseph Gordon Levitt, all grown up from his early days on the sitcom Third Rock from the Sun; joining him are Seth Rogen (as his best friend), Bryce Dallas Howard (his girlfriend), Anna Kendrick (his shrink) and Angelica Huston (his mom). 50/50 is about a young man’s journey with a rare cancer, a tumor on his lower spine, and his relationships with the people in his life as he deals with his treatment. In the end, no one is as they seem – and, also just like life, his story is told with poignancy and humour.

Tuesday night was double good times: I had an early dinner at 7 West Cafe with co-worker/pal Elisabeth, where I introduced her to the restaurant’s tasty and hearty all-day breakfast (and where a nice Cab-Sauv is a good pairing); then it was on to Graffiti’s in Kensington Market, where I was joining my pals Kat Leonard and Lizzie Violet for an evening of music, featuring Kat and a few other singer/songwriters. Ms. Leonard was all kinds of awesome, treating the small but hugely appreciative audience to tunes from her one-woman musical A Depper Kind of Love, the highlight of which was her starting her performance of Asshole in the women’s washroom (a trend that continued for the next act, Lara and Sean, with Lara doing the same with one of her tunes). Kat’s muscial premiered at the Toronto Fringe this past July and will be getting a remount at Red Sandcastle Theatre in November – I’ll give all y’all a heads up when that comes up. An awesome night out with some awesome gal pals.

That brings us to this afternoon, when I headed out to the St. Lawrence Centre Bluma Appel space to see Another Africa, which caught my eye for the cast as much as the subject matter. The CanStage production presents two plays from Volcano Theatre’s Luminato-commissioned project: Shine Your Eye (by Binyavanga Wainaina, dir. by Ross Manson) and Peggy Pickit Sees the Face of God (by Roland Schimmelpfennig, dir. by Liesl Tommy); the two one-act plays are introduced, featuring actors from both plays, by The Stranger (prologue) by Deborah Asiimwe and directed by Weyni Mengesha.

These are two markedly different plays linked by the common theme of modern-day Africa: Shine Your Eye (a Nigerian pidgin term meaning be aware, be sharp) presents an African perspective, directed toward Western culture, while Peggy Pickit is a Western perspective of Africa, making the paired plays a dialogue of sorts between Africa and the West.

Both plays feature outstanding casts. Shine Your Eye showcases the talents of Awaovieyi Agie, Milton Barnes, Lucky Onyekachi Ejim, Araya Mengesha, Muoi Nene, Ordena Stephens-Thompson and Dienye Waboso. Beka (Waboso) the young, highly educated daughter of a murdered political activist father must make choices about her life and ultimately her identity: will she remain working for an Internet scam organization, where the boss wants to trade in her name for financial gain, or will she flee to Toronto, to a life with her online/Skype friend Doreen?

Peggy Pickit features Tom Barnett, Maev Beaty, Tony Nappo and Kristen Thomson – these characters are all white Westerners who worked as medical practitioners in Africa, with one couple staying for six years while the other returned to a life back home, with the house, the garage and a kid. Complex relationships come to light during their dinner party together.

The production makes interesting and effective use of technology, showing back-screen projections of the Skype conversations between Beka and her Toronto friend Doreen (Stephens-Thompson) in Shine Your Eye. And a nanny cam of sorts (inside a wooden doll that Beaty and Barnett’s characters bring to their hosts’ home on the evening of their homecoming dinner) – brought into play by the director – provides images shown on a picture frame upstage centre in Peggy Pickit.

During the talkback that followed (where actors Muoi Nene and Kristen Thomson came out to chat), some audience members said they were challenged by two such different plays, utilizing multi-media technology – both of these comments were supplied by seniors, prompting others to wonder if this was a generational issue. There were some younger folks – possibly senior high school or college kids – in the audience, but they didn’t stick around. It would have been interesting to hear what a younger viewer thought,  though it was mentioned that previous young audience members appreciated the use of technology.

A question came up regarding the staging, along with the technology, and what kind of challenge this presented for the actors. Thomson said that the play (Peggy Pickit) was so beautifully written that the power of the text – and its specificity – supported the actors in maintaining the emotion through scene freezes, where it wasn’t just a matter of holding positions  – but living in the moment and digging in further. For Shine Your Eye, the technology incorporated into the script was more complex and posed a bigger challenge to incorporate on a practical level – but the result was amazingly effective on both a visual level and the political/philosophical questions it poses. In this story, technology is used for mass communication (in a sense, creating a level playing field in the global reach it provides) and for criminal intentions (on a political level, sticking it to the man and taking back what’s theirs – in a Robin Hood-like rationalization).

So, I’d highly recommend 50/50 (see movie listings) and Another Africa (which runs at the Bluma Appel until October 22). And if you haven’t seen Kat Leonard’s show A Depper Kind of Love, you’ll have another chance in November – I’ll keep you posted on that.

Published by life with more cowbell

Multidisciplinary storyteller. Out & proud. Torontonian. Likes playing with words. A lot.

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