She Said/He Said is ” important exploration of identity and hardship,” now on stage in Toronto
The lights dim and the voice of Anne-Marie Woods, the all-encompassing SHE of She Said/He Said, fills the theatre. Through spoken-word, she announces that as a black woman, she hopes that she can make a connection with a black man in Toronto. So far she has had no luck, but she refuses to open up her dating pool to men of different races. She will not strike off black men as a dating option, or (as she calls it) suffer from a condition she calls “blacktose intolerant.” At soon as that line came out, I was hooked.
She Said/He Said by Imani Enterprises has made its Toronto debut at Native Earth’s AKI Studio. She Said/He Said is a multi-faceted performance that combines spoken word, theatre, and song into a story of love, loss, and laughter. The show explores racial identity through the intricacies and insecurities of romantic relationships. It stars award-winning playwright Anne-Marie Woods, who also directed and wrote the show. Woods takes on the role of SHE, while Matthew G. Brown takes on the role of HE.
After the figureless monologue, Woods and Brown take the stage. They stand far apart from each other and address the audience. They introduce themselves in a way that reminded me of a defense, like the entire audience is a third party in a long argument. They plead their case and turn to each other. Their words are simultaneously their defense and their accusation. “He said”, “she said”, “you said”…
She Said/He Said explores the relationships of She and He, tapping into moments of sweetness and annoyance. What seems at first like minor conflicts, ones that are typical and expected of being couple, reveal deeper issues between the characters. Both are struggling with their own issues that they can’t stop from affecting their romance. She is a black woman who feels deeply ignored and mistreated; she tries to be open to giving black men a chance, but she can’t let go of her past hurt. He is a black man who desperately wants to prove what kind of man he is, but finds that the expectations are impossible to meet. The odds are against him before he even starts.
Matthew G Brown was wonderful to watch. He was completely at ease on stage, showing an affinity for acting, singing, and comedic timing. He even demonstrated some slick dance moves for a hot second. Brown’s abilities and his comfort on stage made the story more personal. Even if the show is fiction, Brown made me believe there was nothing but truth in it.
Anne-Marie Woods had a lovely, smoky voice, that felt like it belonged to a singer at a jazz club. She was more tentative in the theatrical performances. She was quiet and she moved with the shyness of someone on a first date, but her tentativeness disappeared the moment she did spoken word. There, she demanded attention and drew me in. I felt like I could listen to her talk for the rest of the show. I found Woods more impressive when she commanded the spotlight, instead of when she shared it.
The vignettes of past and present relationships meld together in a way that is sometimes unclear. This is the only thing that I can think of that could be an issue for some viewers. It was a little confusing, and I found myself asking, is this her current boyfriend or an ex? Normally I would consider it to be a flaw in storytelling, but I think the blending of past and present shows the ultimate message that Woods is getting across: the worries of the past are seeping into the present. Their feelings blur the lines between what’s happening and what already happened.
She Said/He Said is genuinely entertaining with its light-hearted humour, beautiful singing, and sweet moments of romance. More importantly, the show is an important exploration of identity and hardship, and how it relates to race and gender. Woods emphasizes that a conversation about these issues must be had. From what I saw, I am positive that people will be talking immediately when the show ends and the lights go on. I recommend that you see this show and that you do what it’s hoping for: talk.
- She Said/He Said is playing until Sunday September 18th at Native Earth’s AKI Studio (585 Dundas St. East).
- The final show is Sunday at 3:00 pm
- Tickets are $25 ($20 for students, elders, arts workers) and are available through the Box Office by calling 416-531-1402 or online.
Photo credit: Linda Marie Stella
(From left: Anne-Marie Woods, Matthew G. Brown)