Review: word! sound! powah! as part of the sankofa trilogy (Tarragon Theatre)

I have seen d’bi young anitafrika perform at poetry events and Pride, but had never seen a full production of one of her solo plays until I attended the sankofa trilogy at Tarragon Theatre. Actually, I attended word! sound! powah! which is one third of the trilogy. It is running in repertory with the other two shows, blood.claat and benu.

d’bi.young is a force of nature, and I’m not saying that as a casual turn of phrase. Deeply rooted in Caribbean/African spirituality, she invokes the female-gendered deities of nature during her performance so powerfully that she seems like a manifestation of a pagan goddess herself. It is deeply affecting, even for an atheist like me.

It is her voice and her incredible physicality that dominate both the stage and the audience’s attention during the 75 minutes of word! sound! powah!  Her movements are large and often seem wild but they are very precisely controlled. She switches from character to character in a split second with no more transition than a movement of her hip but you always know exactly who you’re seeing whether it’s constable brown, an abusive police officer; sage, a Rastafarian revolutionary; or peaches, a single mother and an audience favourite for her sassy wit.

d’bi owns that stage – she literally bounces off the walls at one point. Her voice is similarly enthralling. She is renowned for her dub poetry, a form of expression that is inherently performative and musical. There is a band of musicians on stage during  the sankofa trilogy who provide the beat and rhythm for d’bi’s frequent bursts of dub poetry. The premise of word! sound! powah! is that a poetry group gets blamed for the assassination of the newly elected Jamaican president. So poetry is an integral part of the performance, as is the political commentary on injustice, poverty, violence and corruption. Occasionally the language was too fast and accented for me to catch the words but even in those moments the mode of expression was fully engaging.

During the show d’bi interacts with the musicians, and also with the audience, in a way that doesn’t so much break the fourth wall as much as take it as a given that there never has been a fourth wall.  In conversation afterwards I was told that the show will be slightly different every night as d’bi’s relationship with the audience changes with its makeup – especially as there are likely to be people she knows personally at each performance, given the nature of theatre in Toronto.

My schedule is pretty tight but I very much hope to see the other two shows of the trilogy. d’bi.young  brings an energy to the theatre that must be seen, and heard, to be believed.


the sankofa trilogy is playing at Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgeman Ave) until December 2, 2011

blood.claat will be performed on November 23rd and 27th at 8 pm and November 26th and December 3rd at 2:30 pm. benu will be performed on November 29th, December 1st and 3rd at 8 pm. word! sound! powah! is performed at all other times, 8 pm Tuesday through Saturday and 2:30 pm on Saturday and Sunday.

-Ticket prices range from $25 to $51. Rush tickets are available for $12.00 at the door for Friday night performances (on sale at 6pm) and Sunday matinees performances (on sale at 1:00pm).

-Tickets are available at 416.531.1827 or online.

Photo of d’bi.young by Cylla von Tiedemann

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