The new Canadian Stage season begins with Another Africa, a program of two contrasting plays presented by Volcano Theatre that were part of The Africa Trilogy at Luminato Festival in 2010. This is the first time I’ve seen them.
While the two plays are in some respects like yin and yang, so completely unlike one another, they have Africa in common.
Shine Your Eye is the shorter of the two, written by Binyavanga Wainaina, and directed by Ross Manson, Volcano Theatre’s Artistic Director. Shine Your Eye revolves around Beka, the daughter of a famous martyred Nigerian activist. Everyone seems to want something from Beka, whether it’s the woman she meets online, her boss, or the voice in her head. Unexpectedly, the play explores virtual life through projections of webcam. The all black cast bring authenticity, physical energy and remarkable vocal skills to this work. Dienye Waboso was true to the company’s name, erupting with unquenchable energy, particularly in the final ten minutes of her magnificent portrayal.
And then, for something completely different, the second play after intermission is a manners comedy for two white couples. Roland Schimmelpfennig’s Peggy Pickit Sees the Face of God (or “PPSFG “) takes awhile to get going. In the first half hour, while I had laughed several times, I wondered if this was a light-weight piece, after the smoking hot intensity of the first work.
But I clearly underestimated what Schimmelpfennig was up to. PPSFG concerns two couples –all four medical practitioners—who have been separated for six years. One couple stayed in North America, had a child and gained a bit of weight as they became ever more prosperous. The other went to Africa: and what happened there is a big part of why you should see the play.
PPSFG consists of two or three very distinctive types of conversation:
- Superficial chit-chat, always striving to be friendly and positive, particularly when there’s something bad or painful to conceal
- Soliloquy, where the action freezes while that person explains what they really feel
- The frequent repetition of lines we’ve heard before, (both the superficial ones and the serious ones) as the meaning gradually shifts over the course of the play
As I said, I underestimated the piece. I was not alone in laughing at the lightness of the play in its first half-hour, but as PPSFG went on, as the repetitions acquired the additional depth of our anticipation of the by-now familiar lines, the audience was often silenced, only to erupt when a laugh-line released the pent-up tension. I was reminded of a canon (such as Pachelbel) , stunning in the crystalline perfection of its construction.
Another Africa continues at the Bluma Appel Theatre until Oct 22nd.