Two thought-provoking plays, one memorable theatre experience
Shine Your Eye
Written by Binyavanga Wainaina
Directed by Ross Manson
Milton Barnes and Dienye Waboso in Shine Your Eye, Another Africa. Photo by John Lauener.
Canadian Stage opened their 2011/12 season last week with Another Africa, a presentation of two plays from Volcano Theatre’s The Africa Trilogy (originally part of the 2010 Luminato Festival). Before the show, the entire acting company stepped on stage and welcomed us to “the unfamiliar familiarity,” an apt description of what we were about to see.
The first play, Shine Your Eye by Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina, is a highly poetic examination of the effects of globalization on a new generation of Africans. Set in an internet scam office in Lagos, Nigeria, the story concerns Gbene Beka (Dienye Waboso) a young computer programmer and the daughter of an assassinated political hero who is forced to choose between two possible futures: should she continue working for the morally suspect business in Lagos, or move to Toronto to be with a woman she met online?
Lucky Onyekachi Ejim gives a powerful performance as Tambari, the boss who justifies his work with the mantra: “someone has to pay us for being the goat.” In other words, they are only taking back what was stolen from them by the West. He manages to convince Naija Boy (Muoi Nene), an ambitious employee and his co-workers (the talented Milton Barnes and Araya Mengesha) to live by this philosophy.
Ordena Stephens-Thompson plays Doreen — the Toronto-based investment banker who falls for Beka over Skype — with touching sincerity. She’s also torn between her political ideals and the reality of survival in an increasingly competitive world. Doreen wants to help her friend by sponsoring her for immigration, but ultimately Beka (portrayed brilliantly by Waboso) chooses a different path — her own.
Featuring high-energy music, top-notch choreography and striking visuals, Shine Your Eye shows Africa in a new light: one separate from the naïve assumptions of the West. This is a captivating and challenging script performed by a stellar cast — a definite must-see.
Peggy Pickit Sees the Face of God
Written by Roland Schimmelpfennig
Directed by Liesl Tommy
Tom Barnett, Kristen Thomson, Tony Nappo and Maev Beaty in Peggy Pickit Sees the Face of God. Photo by John Lauener.
Peggy Pickit Sees the Face of God takes a different perspective from the first play in Another Africa. The action takes place at a “disastrous” dinner party somewhere in the West. Two couples, all medical professionals, reunite after six years: Carol (Maev Beaty) and Martin (Tom Barnett) have just returned from doing crisis work in an unnamed African country, while Frank (Tony Nappo) and Liz (Kristen Thompson) have led much more conventional lives — they’ve made money, bought a house, had a child, and have barely ventured beyond their driveway.
After more than a few uneasy drinks, the friends begin to talk about Africa, and from here the contrast in their choices — embodied by two dolls (one plastic and blonde, the other made of wood) — becomes glaringly apparent. In a series of awkward exchanges, freeze-frame monologues, slow-motion sequences, and rewound scenes, Peggy Pickit explores the consequences of all of their choices. Each couple envies the other, and all are connected by an absent African child named Annie.
Roland Schimmelpfennig’s script is a darkly funny and tragic reminder that good intentions can’t save the world. But hope is better than apathy in the end. Liesl Tommy’s production makes excellent use of props and video (there’s a hidden camera in the wooden doll) and boasts a powerhouse cast. This is one of those shows that people will be talking about for some time to come.
Another Africa offers two fantastic plays on one bill — catch it until October 22, 2011 at the Bluma Appel Theatre. Visit canadianstage.com for more information and to buy tickets.