“Redbone Coonhound” takes on race and relationship

By Stephen Weir

Amy Lee Lavoie and Omari Newton

Last chance for now.  A play about a mixed race couple arguing about, among many other things a certain breed of dog, is leaving town and heading to Montreal. Too bad it can’t stick around longer, Redbone Coonhound is a keeper.

The curtain goes down on Redbone Coonhound March 6th, but judging by the enthusiasm of the critics and the non-stop rush for tickets, this probably won’t be the last time in Toronto for this new play written by Amy Lee Lavoie (who is white) and her husband, Omari Newton (who is black).  It is just that good and that funny.

Silly me, it wasn’t until the curtain raised that I caught the meaning of the  title of comedic drama. A Redbone Coonhound is the name of a breed of an American hunting dog, but has two offensive meaning that have nothing much to do with the hound itself. It got the named coonhound back in the 1800s because it was used to hunt racoons, not people.  I also learned from the play that Redbone is a racial slur referring to skin tones.

This is a bumpy ride play. Here today. Here yesterday. Here tomorrow and out in space. Funny. Combative and frankly it isn’t able to settle the problems of how the White community interacts with the Black community no matter what century it is.

It starts in the present with a married couple taking a walk in the urban forest (Chala Hunter and Christopher Allen modelled on the playwright couple Lavoie and Newton). They bump into a white couple walking their Coonhound.  In the play Allen is Mike who is consumed with rage about all things related to the word yet totally oblivious to the medical issues of his wife Marissa.

Mike is super bummed about the breed of the dog and this unleashes a cascading debate between them about race and their relationship that manifests as a series of micro-plays, each satirizing contemporary perspectives on modern culture. 

Suddenly the sparse changes, Mike morphs into a runaway slave waiting for the Underground Railroad. When it looks like slavers have caught him a bad ass Harriet Tubman arrives.

“CHOO-CHOO MOTHERFUCKERS!”  A rapper dripping in bling played by Montreal’s Lucinda Davis jumps onto the stage. “Batten down your chariots, it’s fucking Harriet/Tubman the scariest, bitch, you hilarious.”

There are seven actors in the cast, all of them playing a multitude of roles in a variety locations and times including a racial correct space station.

Under the direction of Micheline Chevrier and Kwaku Okyere it all makes sense, even when Shirley Temple arrives to tap dances down the steps with Bojangles. 

This is a long 100-minute. Verbal battles between the couple and their friends take up most of the air in the theatre. Hey, they argue about everything from Black cops in Vancouver, to George Floyd, and so, so many other people and issues.  White audiences will see this different from Black theatre goers. But both groups will enjoy the play together