Review: Begin Again (Next Stage Community Booster 2021)

Photo of Cat and the Queen and Sasha Singer-Wilson in Begin Again

Begin Again – a combination of song and spoken word now playing as part of the 2021 virtual Next Stage Community Booster – is about the act of prayer.

Loud or quiet, large or small, desperate or calm, these pleas to a higher power are what creators Cat and the Queen and Sasha Singer-Wilson believe we all turn to in moments of need.

“This is a prayer for strength, for softness, for sleep, for sex,” begins the piece, in a spare, unaccompanied vocal line. Cat and the Queen plays meditative chords with rough-edged emotion, as Singer-Wilson asks the viewer what the word “prayer” inspires in the mind. Do you pray, and to whom, or what?

The otherwise black, blank stage focuses our attention on the pop of red both performers wear. At some turns slowly spinning and others still, the camera swoops in for close-ups that let us see an electric crackle in Singer-Wilson’s wide eyes.

Akin to the concept that a singular, personal prayer makes a connection with something “bigger,” the scope of this prayer continuously expands and contracts. Consequently, the performance ebbs and flows in intensity but never stops moving.

The personal prayer becomes political, even polemical, then reduces again to an inward focus. The prayers consider the fate of the next generation, but also the simple need to remember one’s password, drink less coffee, or know when to let go.

In general, the personally contemplative prayers felt more profound and powerful to me than the larger social pronouncements, despite the latter’s increased volume. However, the connections between the expansive and the intimate are clear, and the juxtaposition between the two is often delightful.

The show also says a prayer “for those who do not know they are praying.” This led to my main question about its message: what is prayer, exactly, and why is it so important to us? The piece focuses more clearly on what people pray for rather than the nature of prayer itself.

It defines the former wonderfully, showing that prayer covers both topical and eternal themes. I did find myself wondering: if we do not know we are praying, what distinguishes a prayer? That is, beyond a conscious attempt to pray, what separates it from a desire, wish, dream, or hope? What makes prayer special, and how does it help us?

In the end, though, the show is more a prayer itself than a full exploration of what praying means. The work’s passion is evident, from its quiet harmonies to a long, sustained cry for help that echoes long after the ten minutes are up. I’ll watch it again before the festival ends.

Details:

  • Next Stage Community Booster is a virtual festival. Once you buy a pass, you are able to access content behind the website paywall.
  • Ticket packages range from Tip What You Can to $100 depending on what you choose to access. See the website for ticketing information. (This, and 5 other short productions, can be accessed through the Theatre Shorts stream for $25 or is included with the Community Booster Membership for $100)
  • All digital content will be available as of 12:01 am on Thursday, January 21, 2021, and will be available until 11:59 pm on Sunday, January 31, 2021.
  • Download the digital brochure

Photo of Cat and the Queen and Sasha Singer-Wilson provided by Toronto Fringe

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