Saturday, 10 February 2018

Review of Watah Theatre Double Bill at Crow's Theatre in Toronto

By Neil Armstrong

 The Watah Theatre in Residency with Crow's Theatre is presenting the world premieres of Najla Nubyanluv’s play, “I Cannot Lose My Mind,” and an excerpt workshop reading of d’bi.young anitafrika’s exciting new play, “Once Upon A Black Boy,” a double bill at the Streetcar Crowsnest from February 1 to February 17, 2018.

“Once Upon A Black Boy” by d’bi.young anitafrika is a new bio-myth dub theatre piece, exploring the coming-of-age of Tsuki, a 13 year old black boy living in Toronto with his mother who was recently diagnosed with cancer. Both Tsuki and his mother, Cha, navigate the complex landscapes of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, motherhood, black masculinity and death.  

Anitafrika is skillful at playing the double roles of Cha and Tsuki in her voice inflections, body language and idiosyncrasies. It is through her characterization of both that we see the love and strains of the relationship between mother and son.

“I Cannot Lose My Mind” by Najla Nubyanluv tells the story of a young womxn's quest to rid herself of depression. When she meets a doctor who finds that many of her patients living with mental illness are having the same recurring dreams, their paths align on an unexpected afrofuturistic quest for a cure and a way to heal.

Nubyanluv’s clever wit is on display in the several characters she plays within a clinical setting where she is dealing with medical professionals and their pronouncements of her depression.

In the playwright’s notes, she notes that: “Depression physically and mentally tried to kill me. Depression triggered by oppression, fed by trauma and memories that don’t want to become my past but want to prevail. I am learning what it means to truly love myself. That is an invaluable lifelong journey and lesson that I may not have learned to appreciate without being born into this world with this experience.”

She says she is still “learning to appreciate myself and to appreciate love and compassion for others with mental illness.”

In many ways this play is therapeutic for Nubyanluv and it seemed to have been so for many of the people who packed into the Crow’s Theatre on the opening night. They expressed appreciation for the playwright and actor being vulnerable onstage and tackling such a sensitive subject.

“d’bi told me to speak to the little girl in me. That little girl has finally set down a burden that she no longer has to carry. I don’t have shame about my illness. I see a bright future exists, in this great mind of mine. Endless possibilities exist in the magic of my dreams,” writes Nubyanluv.

Both works are definitely worth seeing before they close on February 17.

The play and workshop reading are being presented at the Streetcar Crowsnest, 345 Carlaw Avenue in Toronto.

From February 26 to March 3, the Watah Theatre in Residency with Crow’s Theatre presents The Audre Lorde Theatre Festival at Streetcar Crowsnest.

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