February 6 -25, 2018
The Berkeley Street Theatre
26 Berkeley St.
(King and Parliament)
By Stephen Weir
A big part of Black History Month in Toronto is celebrating the Diaspora on “the boards”. This month, Canada’s leading Black theatre organization opened hang, a very dark comedy that is a #MeToo take on crime and punishment.
Maybe it is because February’s dance card is so filled with events it takes a lot to get noticed. hang speaks to what is going on in the world and is desperately in need of an audience. This play, the first of the season for Obsidian, has been running for a week and has yet to attract its traditional base, or even a critical review – till now.
Obsidian Theatre Company, now in its 16th year, says it was born out of a passionate sense of artistic responsibility. The mandate is” to bring the Black voice, in its many artistic dialects, to Canada’s cultural forefront”.
The theatre company attracts some of the country’s best talent to the city Last week it opened hang at the Canadian Stage Theatre in downtown Toronto. It has a 3-member cast starring Sarah Afful, a Ghanaian Canadian Stratford actress, African Canadian actor and dancer (X: Men Apocalypse and Stonewall) Vlad Alexis and theatre and TV actress Zoe Doyle (Orphan Black and Minority Report).
Hang is written by England’s enfant terrible, debbie tucker green (no capital letters please). She doesn’t care if you hate her plays; if you do she says it just shows your passion! This is its first North American performance and so far audiences have been taking to social media to praise not criticize the work of the Jamaican British playwright.
green writes with a flurry of words. She has cut out all the extra fluff you sometimes find in a play. There is no music. It is minimalist basement meeting room set (the original UK version was staged in a black tube).
The actors don’t get names – they are simply 1,2 and 3. hang is conceived with 3 Rs. Rage, Revenge and Rank hatred red tape. It is set in a basement meeting room, with a table, a stack of chairs, a water cooler an air conditioner that can’t cool the rage of character #3 (Sarah Afful).
This is not Shakespeare with long flowing soliloquies. No, hang depends on a staccato machine gun delivery. Interruption is the name of the game. The words are spit out like verbal bullets. Most of the play 1,2 and 3 don’t get to finish their lines.
3 is lead into the room at the start of the play by two lower rung officials – 1 and 2 (female and male). They could be cops, but, since this is dystopia set in the near future, more likely they are working for a private company that now administers ultimate justice on behalf of the country.
Afful comes to the meeting, shaking and alone. Her inner fire is at first masked by political correctness. She smiles on the outside but her eyes fire lightning bolts at 1 and 2 (and everyone in the theatre). 3 smothers all attempts to be made comfortable and at ease, she is there to make a decision about a man who has hurt her and her family.
She makes a mockery of 1 and 2s commitment to bureaucracy and red tape with a simple glare on her face. The audience soon learns that her life and that of her husband and two children have been ruined by an unspeakable crime. It might have been a rape. It might have been a murder. Heck, it could have been both.
The perpetrator has been captured and now a final card has to be played. What to do with him? That decision is the crux of hang – rest assure that in debbie tucker green’s world, mercy is never an option.
We saw the play on Saturday night. Given green’s stellar standing in the theatre world, Theatre Obsidian’s standing in the diaspora and the standing and importance of Black History Month, one would have expected a standing room only audience.
Theatre Obsidian deserves better. There were only 13 in the audience, including my wife, two ushers and myself. This is a cutting edge play that is right for a time where wronged women are demanding revenge.
This highly skilled cast gave it their all. They sizzled and shook on stage for 80 minutes, even though they were playing to 147 empty seats.
The Theatre Company reports that at the beginning of a run, its audience base tends to be slow to come out. But, since last week, tickets are extremely hard to acquire … at any price.