By Crystal Wood
On Friday night, I had a chance to check out two short plays produced by AfriCan Theatre Ensemble, as part of a showcase entitled Season Of Wrath And Play: An Osofisan Spectacular. It was a very “good Friday”, indeed. (Sorry, bad pun.)
The company, which works to bring African theatre to Canadian audiences, presented a double bill by playwright Femi Osofisan: The Engagement and Flood. Coming from one writer, the two plays are remarkably different.
The first piece, The Engagement, is the lighter of the two. A young man goes to his neighbour’s house to make a proposal of marriage, but can’t stop squabbling with his bride-to-be long enough to actually pop the question. The program notes indicate that it’s a reworking of Anton Chekhov’s The Marriage Proposal. Though I don’t know that piece myself, it would be interesting to compare that Russian play to this one, which is now set in a small African village.
The performers in The Engagement were all quite animated, and I enjoyed the way it’s presented as a mating dance. When Ronke (Janine John) and Elemude (Ari Millen) start bickering, they actually start sniffing and pecking like a rooster and a hen. Also fun was the drummer who doesn’t speak (though the characters do acknowledge him), but provides the play with a soundtrack. The Engagement offers a good opportunity to see some authentic African drumming and singing.
The second piece, Flood, takes a completely different tone. Where The Engagement is bright and colourful, Flood is bare and dark. This short piece had a lot of story for only being 30 minutes long.
When a flood strikes an African village, a son (Chisom Darlington) comes to rescue his father (John Phillips), only to find out that the elder doesn’t want to leave his home. The father clings to his memories and belief that the “goddess” will protect him, while the son tries to point out the realities in front of them. This is your basic “family secrets” play, but I enjoyed Osofisan’s take on it. There was one point in the story where an audio recording was a little difficult to hear, but otherwise I thought it was a strong production.
I have to admit there was one thing I did not enjoy at this performance, but it was by no fault of the cast and crew. It was the gentleman whose glowing, blinking BlackBerry light was recording the entire first piece. Sir, if you’re reading this, it’s a distraction to both the performers and the audience.
As someone who watches a lot of theatre in this town, there are still so many companies yet to discover. And it’s always a treat to discover one as entertaining and professional as this one. I would certainly seek out more work by AfriCan Theatre Ensemble, and I think this double bill is a good intro because as the name suggests, you get to see some wrath and a little bit of play, so something is guaranteed to suit your appetite.
– Season Of Wrath And Play: An Osofisan Spectacular continues until May 1, 2011 at the Lower Ossington Theatre, 100A Ossington Avenue.
– Showtimes are Monday to Friday at 8:00 pm, and Sunday at 3:30 pm.
– Tickets cost $27 ($22 for students, seniors, theatre artists and groups larger than 5). They can be purchased online or at the theatre before showtime.
Photo 1: Cast of The Engagement (L to R) Beyo Akinfemi, Janine John and Mustapha Lawal
Photo 2: Cast of Flood (L to R) John Phillips, Chisom Darlington