Ancestors calling on a hero’s journey through fear to true self in the engaging, powerful 11:11

Samson Bonkeabantu Brown. Set design by d’bi.young anitafrika. Costume design by Samson Bonkeabantu Brown. Lighting design by André du Toit. Photo by Brett Haynes.

 

A.V.O. Collective brings the world premiere of its engaging, powerful production of 11:11, presented as part of Why Not Theatre’s RISER Project 2019, to the Theatre Centre’s Incubator stage. Written/performed by trans-identified artist Samson Bonkeabantu Brown and dramaturged/directed by d’bi.young anitafrika, 11:11 is a bio-mythical monodrama journey, stretching across time, space, and the realms of life and afterlife, as our hero connects with his Portuguese and South African ancestors, and moves through fear to become the man he was meant to be.

In a one-person show that encompasses both broad and immediate personal history, Brown draws out his tale as he gradually constructs a pattern on the floor with white stones. Incorporating storytelling, history, movement, ritual, language and music, he shape shifts in and out of a cast of characters that include the precocious, curious seven-year-old girl he once was and the joyful, prophesying, matter-of-fact South African ancestor he’s about to meet.

Becoming a bridge between past and present, female and male, he connects with the spirit world through dreams and visions—and gradually the messages become clear as the little girl who experiences strange dreams and headaches, and is shunned in the schoolyard, grows up and comes to learn that there’s nothing medically wrong with her. She is a receiver, a prophecy made flesh, a shape shifter.

In a world where white men divided up a continent they claimed as their own, and forced their alphabet onto environment-based African dialects—and, later, Western medicine onto African descendants—how does our hero reconcile his connections to both the colonized and the colonizer? And, through the pain of the struggle for true identity, and the ancestral pain of apartheid and displacement, he comes to realize the complex—and even contradictory—aspects of identity and experience that have combined to create him.

1111 by Samson Bonkeabantu Brown (featuring Samson Bonkeabantu Brown) photo by Brett Haynes #2
Samson Bonkeabantu Brown. Set design by d’bi.young anitafrika. Costume design by Samson Bonkeabantu Brown. Lighting design by André du Toit. Photo by Brett Haynes.

Brown, who recently wrote for/performed in the RARE Theatre/Soulpepper production Welcome to my Underworld, is a compelling and entertaining storyteller. Engaging, bold, unashamed and vulnerable, he invites us along on his journey—part autobiography, part personal mythology, part history lesson, part supernatural revelation—as he connects with his roots and finds his true rhythm. From the child-like playfulness of a little girl to the wry-witted wisdom of an elder, the fear, confusion, joy and humour Brown expresses throughout resonate in a deeply profound, intimate way. And I know I wasn’t the only one in tears at the end.

11:11 continues in the Incubator at the Theatre Centre until June 1, with performances on:

Tuesday, May 28 – 6:00PM
Wednesday, May 29 – 9:00PM
Thursday, May 30 – 6:00PM
Friday, May 31 – 9:00PM
Saturday, June 1 – 6:00PM

Tickets available online, in person at the box office, or by calling 416-538-0988.

SummerWorks: Joy, energy & pathos in If Hearts Could Bloom

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Amy Wong & Tamara Kailas

Another delightful group of young actors opened their SummerWorks show at the Scotiabank Studio Theatre at the Pia Bouman last night: the Sears Drama Festival production of Bur Oak Secondary School’s show If Hearts Could Bloom, written by James Croker and Cameron Ferguson, inspired by a story by Preston Lam.

Directed by Ferguson, with choreography by Ferguson, Croker and Christel Bartelse, and film directed by Cody Clayton, If Hearts Could Bloom combines clown, comedia and physical theatre to tell a story that tackles some serious issues: individuality/conformity, bullying/courage, sexism and harassment, ageism, greed and power, and gender identity.

A short, silent film sets the stage for the social order of this world. A Mad Scientist (Jeremy Chong) creates clowns with yellow hearts, but when he tries something different – a purple heart that makes the clown behave differently than the others – Corporate Greed Man (Jeremy Tremblett) responds with an emphatic No! The Mad Scientist caves in, apparently needing the money, and goes back to using yellow hearts. And off we go, into the live onstage journey of a special young clown, born with a purple heart.

There are some truly lovely moments in this show: the sweet, fast-paced meeting, courtship, marriage and arrival of a baby for Everyperson’s Mom (Kainaat Rizvi) and Dad (Cody Clayton) – and the delivery scene with the Doctor (Shareesa Haniff) was hilarious. And Everyperson (Tamara Kailas) and Everywoman (Amy Wong) had an equally adorable meet cute at a children’s birthday party, where Everywoman is the only kid who doesn’t think Everyperson is a freak; the two actors did a lovely job with this bashful, burgeoning relationship. I also loved the school bus bit and the clown Elvis (Bianca Dias, who also co-directed the film segment) at the variety show, as well as the squeals of delight from Everyperson’s rubber chicken bit – the laughter was contagious. This is a show that keeps the audience engaged and attentive, and you never know what’s going to happen next. Ultimately, this is a show about love and courage.

If Hearts Could Bloom is a hilariously funny, sweetly poignant and thought-provoking multi-media clown show, featuring a bright young cast who bring all the joy, energy and pathos.

If Hearts Could Bloom continues its run for two more performances at the Scotiabank Studio Theatre at the Pia Bouman: tonight (Fri, Aug 15) at 7:30 p.m. and Sat, Aug 16 at 1:30 p.m.