Review: She Mami Wata & The Pussy WitchHunt (The Watah Theatre)

The Watah Theatre presents the second installment of The Orisha Trilogy in Toronto

Photo of d'bi.young anitafrika in She Mami Wata & The Pussy WitchHuntSurprisingly, this is the first time I’ve attended a production from the internationally-celebrated Toronto-based dubpoet/playwright-monodramatist/arts-educator/theatre director/scholartist d’bi.young anitafrika. It turns out there was no need for me to worry about my high expectations because the performances from anitafrika and frequent collaborator, Amina Alfred, exceeded all of them. She Mami Wata & The Pussy WitchHunt is a profound exploration of the intersections between personal identity, sexuality, gender, religion, and the consequences of colonization.

She Mami Wata & The Pussy WitchHunt is part two of anitafrika’s Orisha Trilogy, an exploration of “wombxnhood/genders, spiritualities and sexualities as Black diasporised people in the 21st Century.” Although I did not see the criticallyacclaimed part one, Esu Crossing The Middle Passage, it was never a problem for me or my companion as this play tells a new story and stands quite ably on its own. (In any case, we were told that part one will soon be made available on Vimeo by the company.)

This one-woman show follows four young characters as they come of age amidst the constrictions of gender politics, homophobia, and divinity in modern-day Jamaica. anitafrika’s inspiration came from three places: “ancient African spiritual traditions that honor a diverse pantheon of womxn water spirits and deities,” a visit to a Jamaican strip club, and issues concerning “Black diaspora, transplantation, and activism.” This play is a wonderfully immersive experience that incorporates song, dance and dub poetry, and fair warning: encourages energetic audience participation.

It’s hard to fully describe what She Mami Wata is about because of how rich d’bi.young anitafrika’s writing is. She definitely packs a lot into this play but, as my companion commented, “it never felt like too much.” Not only does anitafrika’s words clearly illustrate the interconnectedness of all the above issues, she often grounds larger commentaries within the personal journeys of her characters. As explained in the talkback, while many of the issues addressed in the play are universal, for anitafrika, the authenticity is found in the specific and the personal.

However, the most impressive part of the show was undoubtedly anitafrika’s extraordinarily powerful performance. She transitions between characters who possess vastly different energies with astounding ease all the while completely commanding your attention. She is also well-accompanied by musical director/composer/musician Amina Alfred whose live music and sound effects ably transported us anywhere from a rabble-rousing Christian church to a sultry Kingston strip club.

The only issues I had were with the technical side of the production. I got the sense that some of the lighting design and stage imagery could have felt more immersive if we were in a space where the seating area wasn’t so high up. Additionally, there were a few times where the recorded sound was too quiet or didn’t mix very well with Alfred’s live sound effects. I left the show thinking that this show could have been even more awe-inspiring if some of the effects had not gotten lost in the dimensions of the venue.

She Mami Wata & The Pussy WitchHunt is the kind of show that we unfortunately do not get enough of on Toronto stages and you should catch it while you can.

Details

  • She Mami Wata & The Pussy WitchHunt is playing at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backstage (16 Ryerson Ave) until May 22nd, 2016.
  • Performances run Wednesday to Saturday at 7:30 pm with weekend matinees at 2 pm.
  • Ticket prices are $20 to $25 and can be purchased online or at the Passe Muraille box office beginning four hours before the performance. Call (416) 504-7529 for more information.
  • Audience participation is highly encouraged and appreciated.
  • There is a post-show talkback after every performance. I highly recommend that you stay for it.

 Photo of d’bi.young anitafrika provided by the company.