Reclamation & salvation—stories of Black women’s lives told with candor, sass & humour in powerful, theatrical for colored girls

Karen Glave, d’bi.young anitafrika, Ordena Stephens-Thompson, Akosua Amo-Adem, Evangelia Kambites, Tamara Brown & SATE in for colored girls—photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

 

Soulpepper opened its production of Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls who have committed suicide / when the rainbow is enuf, directed by Djanet Sears with assistance from Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu, to a packed house and a triple curtain call standing ovation at the Young Centre last night.

From the innocent, playful childhood world of hopscotch and double dutch in the playground, to sexual awakening and the discovery of sensual power in young adulthood, to the harsh realities and challenges of life as a Black woman, for colored girls is poetry and politics in motion. Incorporating spoken word, a cappella vocals, dance and storytelling, the excellent ensemble creates scenes, moments and soundscapes. The result is startling, theatrical, hilarious and heartbreaking.

Kudos to the ensemble: Akosua Amo-Adem, d’bi.young anitafrika, Tamara Brown, Karen Glave, Evangelia Kambites, SATE and Ordena Stephens-Thompson. With choreography by Jasmyn Fyffe and Vivine Scarlett, and music composition and arrangement by Suba Sankaran, the cast deftly weaves the stories of these women with honesty, courage and emotional impact—commanding the stage as they engage, entertain and wake us.

Brown’s opening dance is magical and elemental. Glave takes us back to the excitement and anticipation of graduation day with a tale of young love in the back seat. SATE takes charge and takes us out dancing; a woman enjoying the music and the power of her own body in motion. Stephens-Thompson regales us with a poetic, sensual account of woman (Kambites) who attracts with the mystery and allure of an Egyptian goddess. Amo-Adem takes us to church with a proclamation of what belongs to her, coupled with an order to get back what’s been stolen. And anitafrika breaks our hearts as a mother struggling to protect her children.

Highlighting the lived experiences of public and private selves—the public strength and confidence that protect the private vulnerability and fear—from hope and joy to loss and despair, for colored girls is a celebration of Black women finding their voices.

Reclamation and salvation—stories of Black women’s lives told with candor, sass and humour in the powerful, theatrical for colored girls.

for colored girls continues in the Baillie Theatre at the Young Centre; get your advance tix online or by calling the box office at 416-866-8666.

In the meantime, check out the for colored girls teaser:

 

A little holiday magic with some big Foley fun in delightful It’s A Wonderful Life

Soulpepper added an extra bit of cheer to its holiday programming this year with its production of Philip Grecian’s adaptation of Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life, directed by Soulpepper Artistic Director Albert Schultz, assisted by Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu, and opening to a packed house at the Bluma Appel Theatre in the St. Lawrence Centre last night.

Set as a 1940s radio play performed on stage—with the actors playing actors playing characters in the story—this version of It’s A Wonderful Life gives us all the favourite moments of the film version, including the dialogue, with the added fun of a behind-the-scenes look at some fabulous Foley (sound effects) work, designed by John Gzowski. And last night, we had the added treat of a charming performance of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” from the Dixon Hall Music School children’s choir.

George Bailey (Gregory Prest) has spent his entire life helping others in his small town. As a kid (Richie Lawrence) he saved his kid brother Harry (Christef Desir) and after school employer, pharmacist Mr. Gower (Diego Matamoros). And as an adult, he sacrificed college and travel to save the family building and loan business from falling into the hands of the corrupt and wealthy Mr. Potter (Matamoros). All so the hard-working, struggling folks of Bedford Falls could have a fair chance at a decent home.

Challenges aside, he’s got a pretty good life, with a lovely, supportive wife Mary (Raquel Duffy) and four sweet kids (Daniel Mousseau, Thea Lapham, Michelle Monteith and Richie Lawrence). Until one Christmas Eve Day, a banking mistake made by his absent-minded uncle Billy (William Webster) threatens to cost him everything. And in his most desperate hour, his guardian angel Clarence (Oliver Dennis) appears and sets out to show him what the world would have been like if he’d never been born.

It's a Wonderful Life, Soulpepper
Oliver Dennis & Derek Boyes – all photos by Cylla von Tiedemann

This production truly captures the spirit of this beloved holiday classic, and then some. In true radio broadcast style, the show features live commercial spots shouting out Soulpepper’s corporate sponsors and other holiday program offering, with live piano accompaniment (James Smith of Chasse-Galerie). But the biggest fun of all has to be the Foley artistry, featuring Christef Desir, Daniel Mousseau and Marcel Stewart as the soundmen (operating a neat assortment of sound-making props and gadgets, and playing multiple characters as well); with the entire ensemble creating various sound effects vocally. And at the end of Act I, aptly staged during George and Mary’s honeymoon scene, the stage goes to black as the scene continues, with lights on the vintage radio down stage left—giving us a taste of the radio drama experience.

It's a Wonderful Life, Soulpepper
Christef Desir & Michelle Fisk, with Marcel Stewart & Ellie Moon in the background

Exceptional work from this cast. Stand-outs include Prest, who brings a good-natured authenticity to George Bailey, an everyman performing everyday acts of heroism; there’s really nice chemistry with Duffy’s Mary, George’s warm but feisty perfect match. Matamoros delivers some delicious voice work, from the velvet smooth tones of the announcer, to the gravel-voiced Mr. Gower, to the malevolent, grasping villain Mr. Potter. And Dennis is adorably quaint as the underdog Angel Second Class Clarence, determined to earn his wings.

Monteith brings some great vocal chops and range, going from the slinky town party girl Violet, to the too cute for words Zuzu (George’s youngest daughter, famous for Zuzu’s petals); and Mousseau is a delight as Martini, the owner of one of the town’s favourite restaurants. And shouts to kid actors Lapham (Young Mary and George’s daughter Janie) and Lawrence (Young George and George’s son Tommy).

A little holiday magic with some big Foley fun in Soulpepper’s delightful 1940s radio play production of It’s A Wonderful Life.

It’s A Wonderful Life continues the Bluma Appel Theatre—and, good news, it’s been extended to December 31. Get your advance tix online or by calling the box office at 416-866-8666.

Check out the behind-the-scenes video for a peek at the fun in store:

And while you’re at it, check out some of Soulpepper’s other holiday treats, including its annual production of A Christmas Carol and the Family Festival programming. Here’s hoping that It’s A Wonderful Life becomes an additional holiday tradition at Soulpepper.

Life, love & faith in all its messy glory – Eating Pomegranates Naked

Eating-P-N-367x500I was back at the Lower Ossington Theatre main stage again last night, this time to see Andrea Scott’s Eating Pomegranates Naked, directed for the SummerWorks production by Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu.

A group of 30-something friends unearth personal loss, sins of omission and secrets, and struggle with various crises of faith. Scott (Eli Ham) and Sera (Marci T House) navigate the cultural and religious differences that at times challenge their marriage as they struggle to have a baby, while Rushton (Awaovieyi Agie) and Anaar (Cherissa Richards) work out their lives as a new couple, and come to realize that they haven’t had a clear discussion on the baby question and may not be the match they thought they were. For all her tough-talking bravado and comparatively bohemian lifestyle, Cassidy (Susan A. Lock), the single gal in the group, longs for intimate connection and wonders whether a baby is in the cards for her. Connection, family – whether birth family or a chosen family of friends – and a desire to leave some sort of legacy are foremost in the minds of these characters.

Really nice work from this ensemble cast. House does a lovely job balancing Sera’s strength and vulnerability, assuredness and doubt; and Ham’s Scott is a good complement, the other side of Sera’s coin, bringing support and love, especially during the most fragile moments in their relationship. Agie brings a nice sense of cocky, but congenial, confidence to Rushton, a handsome and accomplished man who must come to terms with the fact that he may not be getting what he expected from his relationship with Anaar; and Richards rounds out Anaar’s pretty, dumb girl exterior with a deep longing for acceptance, fearful of rejection if she reveals herself. Lock is sharply funny as Cassidy, gradually revealing that, beneath all of Cassidy’s smart-ass quips, there lies a lack of confidence that she’ll be able to change her life for the better.

Eating Pomegranates Naked is life in all its loving, fighting, believing – and messy – glory. This is another play I had the pleasure to see in an earlier draft – in this case, as a reading at Alumnae Theatre Company’s New Ideas Festival 2012. During the Q&A that followed that reading, the audience learned that the title was inspired in part by friends of Scott, a couple who eat pomegranates naked for easy clean-up/stain avoidance – plus its colourful, erotic, and even biblical, reference (was an apple or a pomegranate that figured in Adam and Eve’s downfall?). In French, it’s “grenade,” a fitting word for the gasp-inducing emotional bombs that get dropped throughout the play. Revelations have the power to relieve or destroy relationships, and revealing oneself takes courage and can result in the discovery that what was wanted most, even as it slips through one’s fingers, is maybe not what was needed – or wanted – after all.

You have two more chances to see Eating Pomegranates Naked during its SummerWorks run at the Lower Ossington Theatre main space: tonight (Fri, Aug 16) at 10:00 p.m. and Sat, Aug 17 at 7:30 p.m. If you’re one of the first 25 audience members for this show, you may get lucky like I did last night and receive a gift bag with some tasty Cobs bake shop goodies.