Amanah, a play by 15-18 year old students now playing at the Scotiabank Studio Theatre, Pia Bouman School, at the 2016 SummerWorks Festival, is a story of immigration that mixes folklore and stories from actual Syrian immigrants with musings on political, media and personal reactions to the current crisis. Though in the end it bites off a little more than it can chew, the effort is admirable and results in genuinely moving and lovely moments. To pirate a phrase, the kids are all right.
Amanah centres on the story of two seven-year-old Syrian children, best friends, who are separated by immigration and then tragedy as their families attempt to make the arduous trek to Germany and Canada. One of the things that unites them, and the play, is a book of allegorical stories, fairy tales from the homeland, which makes its own circular journey.
Meanwhile, we see vignettes including political speeches, media interviews, and online commentary, as North Americans react, drawing parallels between this immigration story and the immigration story that most of us share at some point in our history.
The Maple High School students won the Outstanding Production Award at the Sears Drama Festival for the show before their invitation to SummerWorks, and you can see why from the professionalism they display. The play features excellent timing and fluid staging which only occasionally makes you aware of how crowded the stage is with 30 people on it. (The cast makes good use of suitcases as set, percussion instruments, and even a dragon.)
It struck me as I was watching things unfold that nobody on stage was more than a toddler at the time of 9/11, and they were all almost certainly processing the issues through the lens of growing up in a markedly different world, a perspective I appreciated.
The most interesting parts of the play involve the specific story of the Syrian families; though the other aspects do add a nice counterbalance, there are some easy shots taken (Donald Trump, some ESL humour), which diminish the more nuanced elements. However, there are fewer “straw villains” than a piece on this topic could have, and the sense that, while there is great evil out there, there exists an undercurrent of understanding, connection and care for those attempting to survive tragic circumstance. We’re urged to actually listen to the individual stories, and those are captivating.
There is some beautiful a cappella singing, which underscores much of the piece. I loved the evocative harmonies, but sometimes there was a balance issue, with the actors in the scene having to shout over the music. The acting is variable, but the leads are all strong.
With so much to unpack about this multifaceted issue, I only wish the play had been a little longer and a little less all-encompassing. In particular, while the time jumps and resolution to the main plot are definitely emotionally affecting, they were also abrupt, and I wanted some intermediate story threads for a more satisfying connection.
All in all, though, Amanah is an impressive outing for these promising young talents, who have perhaps already learned one of theatre’s important lessons: leave ‘em wanting more.
- Wednesday August 10th, 5:00 PM – 5:45 PM
- Sunday August 14th, 1:00 PM – 1:45 PM
Individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Youth Series tickets are $10, Live Art Series ticket prices vary. Tickets are available online, by phone at 416-320-5779 and in person at the SummerWorks Central Box Office – located at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst Street). Open August 2-14 from 10am-7pm. Cash and credit accepted.
Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows.
Photo provided by the company