As I watched this tour de force one-woman show performed by the playwright herself, I was struck by her ability to project and maintain a high intensity of very colourful and passionate expression, and to switch ingeniously among a variety of clearly defined characters. As well, I was impressed by the very effective and visceral soundscape and the simple, but flexible and appropriate set, as well as the tight unity of the script, which is very focused upon its thematic base: various manifestations of blood in the life of a young Jamaican woman.
As if those successes are not enough, Anitafrika successfully navigates the tricky territory of her central manifestation of blood: menstruation. This taboo subject is represented to us physically by the fabrics that the central character frantically washes and re-washes, and discussed in detail by the central character, her forceful, down-to-earth grandmother, her religious aunt, her compassionate mother, her strutting, penis-obsessed boyfriend; in other words, the subject is presented to us in just about every means possible short of passing samples around the audience.
In the face of all these strengths, I am still faced by the fact that, as an audience member, I found myself in the position of admiring how well all of this was done; yet, I did not find myself emphasizing with any of the characters, nor identifying with any of them. In fact, I did not feel anything; I was outside of the action, watching it as spectator at a remarkable spectacle.
Part of my reaction may be attributed to the intensity of the production: it is all so intense; there are no moments of contemplation, places for the audience to align with a character or to feel emotion and to take a position. It is like watching a slideshow of remarkable photographs, each one awe-inspiring, and being left with the conclusion that that was just “pretty good” because there was no “normal” to compare it to. The problem then is one of pitch: the whole thing is played at one high note.
One of the measures of my emotional disengagement with the production was my increasing awareness of the perspiration soaking anitafrika’s costume on her abdomen and back. I found this very distracting and suggest that some thought be given to improving the costume so that the problem does not draw patrons out of the suspension of disbelief.
Negative observations aside, this is still an authentic-feeling impactful production with many merits, not the least of which is the imposing sense of the mythological roots of the characters as presented visually, aurally and intellectually by the well-integrated design and performance elements in evidence.
Aside to GCTC Artistic Director Lise Ann Johnson: I understand your need to economize by limiting cast size, but here we have another one act play presented as if it were a full evening’s entertainment. I urge you to consider that an audience wants more, as I have explained previously.
Performance viewed: 8 PM March 11, 2010. Running time 82 minutes. No intermission.
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one oomaan story
Written and performed by d’bi.young anitafrika
Directed by Weyni Mengesha
Original set & lighting design by: Steve Lucas
Associate set & lighting designer: Aaron Kelly
Sound designer: Thomas Ryder Payne
Drumming, vocals & composition by: Amina Alfred
Costume designer: Erika O’Connor
Stage manager: Samira Rose
Apprentice stage manager: Adrienne McGrath
Sound operator: Jon Carter
Light operator: Darryl Bennett
Head of props: Stephanie Dahmer
Head of wardrobe: Geneviève Ethier
Crew: Sean Lamothe
March 2, 2010 – March 21, 2010