Oct 26-Nov 20, 2016
Wednesday-Saturday 7:00 PM
Sunday 2:00 PM
Normally, I don’t do theatre reviews on this blog, especially for a piece of theatre that is not from the early modern period, but I saw a work on Saturday that just demands to have more recognition. It was probably the most electrifying performance I’ve ever seen, with a single performer inhabiting over a dozen different characters throughout the piece, as though she had been possessed by the spirits of others entirely.
For my birthday (huzzah!), I took myself to see d’bi young anitafrika’s play bloodclaat, which is playing right now at the Watah Theatre (9 Trinity St, Toronto – Right in the Distillery District). If you don’t know the play or the artist, you really ought to.
bloodclaat is the first play of the Sankofa triology, which the Watah theatre will be putting on throughout the year. It is a storytelling monodrama, wholly performed by one of the most exceptional talents in Canada today. Originally written over a decade ago, the play won several awards, including a Dora Award for Outstanding New Play and Outstanding Performance by a woman. d’bi.young anitafrika is returning to bloodclaat now as a more mature woman, exploring the possibilities of storytelling and the growth of the characters that has been developed over the past decade.
In the first play, bloodclaat, set mainly in Jamaica “in the present day,” Mugdu is a young girl who has her first period at the beginning of the play and is pregnant at fifteen years of age at the end (as young anitafrika’s own mother had been); in the second play, benu (2010), Mugdu’s daughter, Sekesu, is a 28-year-old new mother in Toronto, and in the third play, word! sound! powah! (2010), Mugdo’s 20 year old granddaughter, Sekesu’s daughter benu, is involved in the “poet’s in solidarity” movement surrounding the 1980 election in Jamaica, the bloodiest since independence in 1962, in which socialist leader Michael Manley lost to the US-backed Edward Seaga.
For d’bi.young anitafrika her, the plays are biomyths:
an abbreviation of the words biography and mythology. biography pertains to the accounting of one’s own lived experience; mythology pertains to 1. the poetic reinterpretation of the lived experience and 2. the use of folklore, myth, and magic in the process of reinterpretation. biomyth therefore, is the poetic grey space between what we interpret as real and what we deem make-believe. (email)
The differences in form and content among the trilogy’s three parts demonstrate the flexibility of a form that is nevertheless deeply steeped in Afro-Jamaican cultural politics and practices. Formally, bloodclaat is a in part a coming-of age dub play reclaiming the curse word that is its title and celebrating women’s power to give life; “bloodclaat,” is the Jamaican term for “bloodied cloth.” It is now used as a profoundly misogynist curse word in Jamaica (as when the thuggish policeman in word!sound!powah! threatens Benu, “all of yuh getting the bloodclaat firing squad. Yuh hear mi?” (11)), but originally, of course, it simply referred to the cloth worn during menstruation.
The performance itself was terribly intimate. The Watah Theatre space is a small rehearsal room where the audience and the performer can see each other and interact. The characters would sometimes turn out to the audience, asking questions and demanding an interaction that broke the fourth wall, gathering them into the community of characters that d’bi.young anitafrika was embodying. (I say “embodying” because “performing” is almost not strong enough to convey the utter and complete transformation that she was able to enact.)
The play, which is at turns uproariously funny and terrifically tragic, takes its community of witnesses on an emotional journey that is, at its heart, the best of what theatre has to offer. At the end of the play, d’bi young anitafrika stopped and turned to the audience to answer questions. The talkback session recognized the intensity of the experience that we had all just lived and encouraged communal healing through speaking out.
Honestly, this was some of the best theatre I’ve ever seen. If you are in Toronto for the next month, please, PLEASE go see this show.