Makambe K. Simamba’s gripping play, inspired by Trayvon Martin’s story, is onstage in Toronto
Our Fathers, Sons, Lovers and Little Brothers, written and performed by Makambe K. Simamba, is the story of Trayvon Martin’s first hours in the afterlife, and it is utterly gripping and rendered with great tenderness and bravery. It’s also surprising, which was unexpected with such a well-publicized story. Simamba had her work cut out for her trying to make theatre that didn’t feel like a simple rehearsal of the brutal facts. But Our Fathers, Sons, Lovers and Little Brothers is so, so much more.
Simamba, who wrote the piece, plays Slimm (as Trayvon Martin was called) as he finds himself, suddenly, in the afterlife. The piece avoids notions of heaven and hell, focusing instead on the idea of the dead as being reunited with their ancestors. Instructions are issued for his completion of this transition, through which the audience sees well-chosen vignettes of his life. Without going into too much detail, because the unfolding is cleverly paced and arranged, I’ll say that the image of Slimm the play makes feels both specific and like many, many teenagers. He’s full of potential, full of shenanigans – and fully realized, rescuing him (and humanizing him) from the one-dimensional character mainstream media discussed, to the credit (in some portion) of dramaturg Audrey Dwyer.
There’s considerable movement work in Our Fathers, Sons, Lovers and Little Brothers as well, which I appreciated. At the beginning, Slimm adjusts to the gravity and atmosphere of the afterlife slowly, and we see him organizing his body in relation to the news as a stand-in for the mental process. In the end of the show, as the cosmos is projected behind him and he is instructed to “release,” Simamba performs an extended dance/movement hybrid sequence that’s dozen upon dozen of past and possible-future moments flying terribly out of his vibrant young body and into the ether, unused. It’s among the most affecting things I’ve ever seen on a stage.
In focusing her piece on Slimm and embodying him in such a grounded and specific way, Simamba makes Our Fathers, Sons, Lovers and Little Brothers universal. It’s a contradiction of artwork that specific emotional truths open the widest apertures, but it remains true here. The disjunct narrative, which is typically not my favorite, utterly works – here it keeps us from steeling ourselves from the emotional truth of the show, keeps us guessing, distracts us from what we know on some level is coming so that we crash heart-first into the climax, as we should. I sincerely hope to see further remounts of this brilliant, beautiful work.
- Our Fathers, Sons, Lovers and Little Brothers plays at Buddies In Bad Times (12 Alexander St) until 18 April 2019
- Shows run Tuesday through Saturday at 8:00PM, and April 16th & 17th at 11am.
- Tickets Pay-what-you-can to $40 available online at buddiesinbadtimes.com
- Every performance shows with open captions projected onto the stage wall.
photo of Makambe K Simamba by Dahlia Katz