Putting the spotlight on who gets to tell the story in the hilarious, gut-wrenching, deeply moving BANG BANG

Karen Robinson, Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah, Richard Zeppieri, Jeff Lillico & Sébastien Heins. Set design by Nick Blais. Costume design by Lindsay Dagger Junkin. Lighting design by Oz Weaver. Photo by Joseph Michael Photography.

 

What happens when a white playwright’s play, inspired by the shooting of an unarmed young Black man by a Black female cop, becomes a huge success destined for a Hollywood movie adaptation?

Factory Theatre presents the world premiere of Kat Sandler’s BANG BANG, directed by Sandler, assisted by Kwaku Okyere, with dramaturgy by Donna-Michelle St. Bernard. Inspired by all too common headlines of innocent lives lost, the play turns a spotlight on how these stories are told and who gets to tell them.

Suspended from the force two years ago, former rookie police officer Lila (Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah) now lives with her mother Karen (Karen Robinson), a psychologist, and the memory of her deceased cop father. Lila’s story—and that of Derek Chambers, the young man she shot—is of particular interest to playwright Tim (Jeff Lillico), who wanted to write an important, socially relevant piece about excessive and deadly police force; and this case is unusual—and dramatically juicy—in that it involved a Black female police officer.

When Tim shows up unexpectedly at Karen’s door to see Lila one rainy day, the reason for his visit is even more of a surprise than his arrival. His play Hands Up was a huge success and is being turned into a Hollywood movie. And they’re about to have another surprise visitor: actor Jackie (Sébastien Heins), who’ll be playing the police officer—and whose arrival is abruptly heralded by security detail Tony (Richard Zeppieri). And just when you thought things couldn’t get any weirder, amidst a morning of day drinking (all except Karen), Lila decides that they need to do selected readings of the play, insisting that this will be helpful for her. And that’s when shit gets really real.

Outstanding work from the ensemble on this roller coaster ride of ideas, emotions and storytelling. Robinson brings both ferocity and vulnerability to Karen, a protective mother and a sharp, wry-witted professional. Willing to do whatever’s necessary to shield her daughter from harm, Karen also struggles with how Lila’s actions reflect on her. As Lila, Roberts-Abdullah rides the edge of good-humoured self-deprecation and hopeless despair. Lost and isolated, and putting on as brave a face as she can, Lila is haunted by the shooting, nursing her pain with outbursts of edgy humour and sliding into day drinking as she tries to make it through the day.

Lillico’s multilayered performance as Tim gives us a driven, ambitious and socially awkward young man who longs to make a name for himself as much as he wants to make a social statement. Although he has no ties to the community or profession that are key components of the story, Tim feels entitled to tell it—and feels justified in researching the finer details through Google and interviews. Caught up in his own growing celebrity, does he even know who or what he’s writing this for anymore?

Heins is an energetic ball of fire as Jackie—and does an excellent job with the public and private faces of celebrity. An extroverted master of put-on sincerity, and referring to himself in the third person on the one hand, Jackie also gives a genuinely passionate account of a play he saw that also tells the story of a police shooting of an innocent Black youth. Driven and ambitious like Tim, Jackie is also biracial and more socially astute than his former Disney child star turned wannabe serious actor persona might indicate. Zeppieri is an irreverent, foul-mouthed delight as Tony; a former cop himself and a bull in a china shop socially speaking, Tony has some surprisingly gentle qualities beneath that gruff, macho exterior. And he gives a hilarious read of the Hands Up stage directions.

Who gets to tell these stories—and how and when? And what kind of impact will the telling have on the immediate audience and the public at large? Rarely do you get to see a play that makes you think, laugh, puts you on the edge of your seat and moves you to tears like BANG BANG.

The design team has created a marvelous, theatrical environment for this play within a play journey: from the visible props tables in the unmasked wings that flank the gorgeous living room set (set by Nick Blais) and lighting scaffolding (lighting by Oz Weaver), to the snippets of epic, sweeping soundtracks that emerge throughout (sound by Verne Good).

BANG BANG continues in the Factory Theatre mainspace until February 18; advance tickets strongly recommended.

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A yin & yang of fluidity, strength, beauty & connection – Kaeja d’Dance’s 25th Anniversary Concert

allen and karen kaeja photo by aria evans
Allen & Karen Kaeja of Kaeja d’Dance – photo by Aria Evans

“25 years feels like a masterpiece. One that has flaws, failures, good fortune and gratitude, colour splattered in unrecognizable textures that weave together an incredible human experience!” – Karen Kaeja

“25 years is encompassing growth, struggle, intimacy and it’s terrifying. It’s tenderness, and support – with passion and imagination!” – Allen Kaeja

Kaeja d’Dance premiered its double bill 25th Anniversary Concert last night, running until Saturday, March 28 at Harbourfront Centre Theatre.

Kaeja d’Dance co-founders/choreographers/husband and wife team Karen and Allen Kaeja each choreographed a piece (and dance in each other’s pieces) for this double bill premiere celebration performance, tackling the “notions of fate, coincidence and choice.” The dance company includes Michael Caldwell, Zhenya Cerneacov, Ana Groppler, Allen Kaeja, Karen Kaeja, Merideth Plumb and Mateo Galindo Torres.

.0 (by Allen Kaeja, with Caldwell, Cerneacov, Groppler, Karen Kaeja, Torres & Plumb) – Immediacy, instinct and the vulnerability of our senses
An athletic, robust, yet beautifully vulnerable and at times comic piece – and accompanied by a haunting soundtrack (composed by Edgardo Moreno, featuring violinist Jessica Hana Deutsch), and featuring sharp atmospheric lighting and fog effects (by Oz Weaver) – .0 plays on the tension of opposites. Holding back/explosive action. Isolation/engagement. Effervescent/exhausted. Playfully confrontational, aggressively gentle, the piece plays on cause and effect, incorporating movement from contact improv, martial arts (judo) and balletic, gender-neutral lifts to powerfully dynamic effect.

TAXI! (by Karen Kaeja, with Caldwell, Cerneacov, Groppler, Allen Kaeja & Plumb) – Things I forgot to tell you: That I love you. That I love you. That I love you. (from Anaïs Nin, A Literate Passion: Letters of Anaïs Nin & Henry Miller, 1932-1953)
Playing on the theme of coupling – and navigating romance in the midst of a challenging world – TAXI! Is whimsical and poignant, cheeky and sexy, and full of languid, sensuous and playful movement and interaction – not to mention sharp comic timing – as the choreography brings the dancers together and pulls them apart. This piece weaves original composition (Sarah Shugarman and Phil Strong, performed by Strong), pop music and text, allowing the dancers to engage with the theme physically, verbally and vocally – with overlapping relationship storytelling and singing along like nobody’s watching to Alicia Keys’ “Fallin’ (In and Out of Love)” – as well as voice-over recordings of a young boy (Willem Kerr) offering general life advice and reciting marriage vows (from the mouths of babes…). As I left the theatre, with “Fallin’ (In and Out of Love)” running through my head, I know I’d never hear that song the same way again. With shouts to lighting designer Oz Weaver.

Kaeja d’Dance’s 25th Anniversary Concert is a yin and yang of fluidity, strength, beauty and connection. Get yourself out to see this marvelous, innovative dance company.

Kaeja d’Dance’s 25th Anniversary Concert continues this week till March 28 at Harbourfront Centre Theatre – check out the details and buy tickets online here.

Look out for Kaeja d’Dance’s Porch View Dances this summer (Aug 19-23). You can also keep up with Kaeja d’Dance on Twitter – and check out the trailer for the 25th Anniversary Concert: