(This is Jerry's review of the Magnetic North Theatre Festival production at the Firehall in 2008)
The Magnetic North Theatre Festival opened this week with two plays from Toronto, both titles uncapitalized, both with rhythmic accompaniment and both played without intermission. Otherwise, they couldn’t be more different.
Brilliantly written and performed by the intriguingly named d’bi.young.anitafrika, blood.claat is a funny, powerful, moving story of a young Jamaican woman who struggles with many traumas and ultimately triumphs over them. Darren O’Donnell’s silly, annoying but technically impressive [boxhead] is about two men—actually both the same man—with boxes over their heads.
The term “blood claat” is an obscenity in Jamaican English that originally meant the cloth used by women to stanch their menstrual blood. The imagery of blood floods through the play, signifying the violence of life in contemporary Jamaica and its historical legacy of slavery. But mainly it comes to stand for the central character Mudgu’s recuperation of her personal and cultural identity and the power of her womanhood.
Although this sounds heavy, d’bi.young’s performance is joyful and energetic. She establishes a wonderful rapport with the audience, fully inhabiting and humanizing each of her characters—Mudgu’s lovely mother who has emigrated to Canada, her repressive granny with whom Mudgu lives, her boppin’ dj boyfriend Djoni, her Christian auntie, a stuttering bus driver, an 18th century warrior woman, and more.
The beautiful acting is accompanied by reggae and African rhythms as d’bi.young brings her substantial skills as a dub poet to the stage. With tightly woven direction by Weyni Mengesha, this Theatre Passe Muraille production represents some of the best work being done in Toronto.
The Magnetic North Festival tries to showcase the many varieties of theatre from across the country and [boxhead] is certainly different. A young geneticist wakes up to find his head encased in a cardboard box. A voice out of the darkness, which may or may not be a god, speaks to him and also provides drum and percussion accompaniment. Soon a second, cloned boxhead appears, both of their voices electronically distorted and amplified. And the percussionist also becomes doubled.
There’s a suggestion at the beginning that this will be a playful exploration of “thinking outside the box.” But any ideas are quickly drowned out by the sheer din and volume of the sound, and the frantic physical pace of the boxheaded actors (Paul Fateux and Jim Jones, I think), whose performances are actually pretty remarkable. When one of the actors starts doing puppetry with his penis, you know the play has completely run out of ideas.
All the shows at Magnetic North have very short runs. Don’t miss the final performances of blood.claat, 2 pm June 8 & 9.