The power of love, music & colour in the visually rich, magical, ground-breaking The Black Drum

Corinna Den Dekker, Dawn Jani Birley, Yan Liu & Daniel Durant. Set & props design by Ken Mackenzie. Costume design by Ruth Albertyn. Makeup by Angela McQueen. Video & projection design by Laura Warren. Lighting design by Chris Malkowski. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

 

Commissioned and produced by the Canadian Cultural Society of the Deaf, the Deaf Culture Centre presents the world premiere of Adam Pottle’s Deaf musical The Black Drum,* in partnership with Soulpepper at the Young Centre. Directed by Mira Zuckermann, assisted by Jack Volpe, with movement and choreography by Patricia Allison, The Black Drum combines signed music, dance, movement and projected imagery to tell the story of a woman’s journey through loss and grief to find the power of her inner music, as her tattoos come to life and launch her into a strange, dark world dominated by a sinister force. The result is a visually rich, magical and ground-breaking piece of storytelling.

As the story begins, we are introduced to the Minister (Bob Hiltermann), a sinister and controlling presence who dominates a world devoid of music, laughter, love and freedom. Meanwhile, performing artist Joan (Dawn Jani Birley) is reeling from the loss of her beloved wife Karen (Agata Wisny), inconsolable as her roommates Bree (Yan Liu) and Oscar (Daniel Durant) try to reach through her grief. Propelled into the world of the Minister, Joan’s tattoos Butterfly (Liu) and Bulldog (Durant)—beauty and strength—come to life.

In this dark, grim and desolate place, Joan encounters the Minister’s reluctant lieutenant Squib (Natasha C. Bacchus) and Ava (Corinna Den Dekker), who dances with a group of children (Jaelyn Russell-Lillie, Sita Weereatne and Abbey Jackson-Bell). Ava tells Joan that the Minister controls this world, a place between life and death, with magic—his black drum (drum accompaniment by Dimitri Kanaris), the embodiment of his empty black heart. And Joan also learns that Karen is the Minister’s prisoner. Charged with using her colour and music, Joan sets out with her friends to defeat the Minister and free her beloved from his clutches.

drum-5
Agata Wisny & Bob Hiltermann. Set & props design by Ken Mackenzie. Costume design by Ruth Albertyn. Makeup by Angela McQueen. Video & projection design by Laura Warren. Lighting design by Chris Malkowski. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Hiltermann brings a nightmarish, supernatural edge to the menacing, arrogant Minister; his sharp-featured white face mirrored by the spooky talking head projections that flank the stage—occasionally speaking they guide us through the story (voice acting by Raquel Duffy and Diego Matamoros). Birley’s performance as Joan beautifully weaves the devastation of grief with the perseverance of resistance as Joan strives to free Karen, despite the fact that she’ll never be able to get her back.

Lovely work from a supporting cast that hails from all over the globe; Liu’s Butterfly is both balletic and delicate, with a feisty will that doesn’t back down from a fight; and Durant brings comic relief as the tough, yet sweet and big-hearted, Bulldog. Den Dekker’s meek and timid Ava reveals inner strength as her longing for freedom for herself and her dancing children turns into action; and Bacchus’s Squib may be a hard-ass soldier serving the Minister, but is as much under his control as the others, and would choose otherwise.

Visually stunning, magical and moving, this Deaf-led, ground-breaking piece of storytelling resonates; both allowing Deaf audience to experience their culture on stage, and giving hearing audience a new perspective on how a story can be presented and communicated. Hearing audiences are used to using their ears to hear the music and dialogue; here, we see and feel the music, the vibrations physically resonating through our bodies and the rhythms dancing across our minds—all aimed at our hearts. And it’s a compelling reminder, for all of us, that love, colour and music are powerful weapons against the dark forces that haunt our everyday lives.

The Black Drum continues at the Young Centre until June 29; advance tickets available online or by calling the box office at 416-866-8666 or 1-888-898-1188.

*Note: This production is presented with Written and Voice Synopsis & Audio Assist Devices and is accessible to non-ASL audiences.

Toronto Fringe: Love vs. consent in the candid, intimate, autobiographical The Girl in the Photograph

Andrea Cabeza & David Chinchilla. Photo by Liliana Vera.

 

She signed her love notes with “The Girl in the Photograph”. He signed his with “Prince Charming”. She was 14 when their love affair began.

Chameleon Productions presents the true story of love behind the scenes at a young theatre company in Mexico with their Toronto Fringe production of The Girl in the Photograph. Created by Andrea Cabeza, written by Joel Pettigrew, and directed by Victoria Urquhart with associate director Melissa Fearon, the play is currently running in the Factory Theatre Studio.

This story of rule-breaking love begins in a police station interview room, where 15-year-old Paula (Andrea Cabeza) has been left stewing for hours; she is finally joined by Ofelia (Erin Roche), who is there to take her statement. Shifting back in time, we witness Paula’s story unfold. A gifted emerging young actor, Paula comes to work with 26-year-old Beto’s (David Chinchilla) theatre company, whose primary source of funding is the wealthy father of Beto’s live-in girlfriend Martina (Roche). Working hard and honing her craft, Paula shares with Beto a passion for Shakespeare and storytelling—and their actor student/director mentor relationship evolves into a secret passion for each other. Observing from the sidelines is Beto’s SM/assistant Alexia (Tamara Almeida), who is well-aware of Beto’s reputation with women, especially lovely and talented young actresses.

Conflicted and fearing for Paula’s safety, Alexia’s detached observation borders on complicity when she offers to drive Paula to Beto’s home for their secret romantic meetings. Conflicted herself, Paula struggles with Beto’s endless excuses for delaying his break-up with Martina—and Martina’s pregnancy adds an additional complication. Paula knows she should leave him, but can’t bring herself to do it. And when the relationship is revealed to Paula’s mother, their world is blown apart.

Beautifully nuanced, honest and respectful performances from the cast in this candid, intimate autobiographical piece. Like the love vs. consent scenario we saw onstage last fall with Rose Napoli’s Lo (or Dear Mr. Wells)—which portrayed a student/teacher relationship, told from the point of view of the student—The Girl in the Photograph forces us to question our position. Is a minor, no matter how wise beyond her years she may be, truly able to consent to a sexual relationship with an adult? Where does the onus lie in such a situation? In the end, Paula is left to work through the impact—both positive and negative—on her personal and professional life, and find closure as she chooses the path her life takes next.

With shouts to the design and music teams: Original music by Marina Lopez, performed live on acoustic guitar by Owen Gardner, sound design by Johnny Salib, and production design by Ruth Albertyn.

The Girl in the Photograph continues in the Factory Theatre Studio until July 15; check the show page for exact dates/times.