Review: Binti’s Journey (Theatre Direct/Young People’s Theatre)

 

Theatre Direct presents a story of hope and survival at Toronto’s Young People’s Theatre

Binti’s Journey is a coming-of-age story of hope, survival, family and love. The titular character, Binti, lives with her father and her two older siblings, Junie and Kwasi in Blantyre, Malawi. Her father owns a profitable coffin-making business and Binti, a very special thirteen year old, is an actor on a radio drama.

Tragedy strikes when the three children lose their father to AIDS-related pneumonia. The family is separated. Kwasi goes to live with an uncle in Monkey Bay while Junie and Binti go to live with other relatives who rob and exploit them. Junie leaves without a word and Binti travels to the country to live with her grandmother, Gogo, at the latter’s orphanage.

It is at the orphanage where Binti redefines what makes her special and where she discovers her sense of responsibility and community.

The cast plays a host of different characters and displays the differences through very strong physical and vocal choices.

Binti’s pride characterizes much of how Starr Domingue plays her and it is interesting to watch her struggle with the dual connotation. That pride first humbles her and then lifts her up.

Despite her hardships, Binti is never broken, never embittered. Sorrow touches her life but she’s never overcome by it. I had a difficult time believing this while I was watching the play. However, it is this optimism, played so exuberantly by Domingue, that instills hope in us and teaches the cynic the strength the human spirit has.

One stand-out character for me was Gogo, played at times by three actors at once, which testifies to the power this woman has and to the strength of her voice and the gravity of her words.

Gogo is our link to Malawian history and mythology. Her funeral speech and bedtime story are expressions of the collective consciousness of the Malawian people. Gogo is the character who is unafraid to address the severity of the AIDS pandemic when she makes the call to arms against “the lion in our village” and states she is tired of burying her children.

Memory is another stand-out character, played by the subtle and versatile Dienye Waboso. Memory serves as an excellent counterpoint to Binti’s innocence. Memory is a child-woman the same age as Binti who had to grow up very quickly. She, too, is an AIDS orphan and also a survivor of sexual violence and an early adolescent mother living with HIV who is responsible for much of the operation of the orphanage.

Memory’s emotional journey is compelling as she transforms from a stern and authoritative manager to a warm and caring family member.

The cast of four incorporates choral work, singing and movement as vehicles for ensemble storytelling. The influence of Mxolisi Welcome Ngozi, the Movement and Music Director, is evident throughout.

The singing of traditional Malawian songs and the layering of voices show us that strength and healing come from community.

I had the honour of sitting in the audience with the grade 7/8 class from Forest Hill Public School located just outside of Barrie, Ontario. It is encouraging that the content of the show was accessible to a group of young people that grew up primarily in Canada proving that the themes in the play transcend culture and geography.

Binti’s Journey challenges our assumptions of privilege and what it means to be special. It teaches that there is dignity in living with HIV and that HIV “is in the blood, not the heart”.

It also challenges us as Canadians to ask the difficult question: If there are drugs in rich countries (such as Canada) to treat the disease, why aren’t those drugs readily available for people in countries like Malawi?

There is a lion in our global village now. It is called AIDS and it is carrying away our children. The time is ripe for an “emotional banging of drums”.

Details

  • Binti’s Journey (Theatre Direct/Young People’s Theatre) is playing at Young People’s Theatre (165 Front Street East), Studio, until December 9, 2012.
  • Recommended for ages 12 & up
  • Performances: Dec. 2 at 2:30PM, Dec. 3-6 at 10:30 AM & 12:45 PM, Dec. 8 & 9 at 2:30 PM
  •  See full performance schedule
  • Tickets: $15-$20, PWYC Sunday December 2, 2:30 pm
  • Tickets can be purchased online or by calling the box office at 416-862-2222

Photo of Thomas Olajide, Ijeoma Emesowum, Allison Edwards-Crewe and Dienye Waboso by Greg Edwards

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