By Stephen Weir
Rarer than a church handing out money on Sunday to its congregation, the new play Vierge (virgin) is breaking ground with its black all-female cast and its black female playwright. oh yes, its director is a Zambia-born black woman.
The city has a long history of White male dominated theatre, Vierge is making a huge racial and gender statement that, judging by the rousing Thursday night premier, rocked the standing-room-only Toronto audience.
Etobicoke’s Shauna Thompson stars in Vierge, the new play recently unveiled at the factory theatre. The play features Thompson as Divine, a sixteen-year-old who feels like she doesn’t belong anywhere and whose only comfort is her rarely read Bible. However, when her family joins a Montreal Congolese church and she befriends three African Canadian girls in her newly formed youth group, Divine discovers that the world around her is not what she thought it was.
Vierge follows the journey of Divine and three Congolese teenage girls as they navigate the challenges of their Christianity, virginity, their lecherous African pastor and adjusting to living in Quebec. It is a teary-eyed story that ends with a wild unsupervised teen church party. but, if you can handle some of the affected Congolese accents there is a lot of laughs and smiles dished out by the tight cast.
Vierge playwright Rachel Mutombo is an award-winning actor and writer who was born in Scarborough to English-speaking Congolese parents but has spent her formative years within a predominately French speaking community in Montreal’s west island (where The Camera caught up with her).
Although audience members probably don’t know it, Vierge is her first play. It was an idea she came up while studying at the national theatre school of Canada and then put the idea to paper when she joined a mentoring programme at the Factory Theatre.
“I started in 2019 at the Factory with a year of residency and workshops,” she told The Camera. “In the beginning I just wanted it to be funny. Having conversations within the theatre, which we don’t often get a lot of in real time with real people,” is how her script evolved.
“With this play I embrace who I am. It is a world that is as restrictive as it is expressive. A world that reminds us of the beauty and absurdity of being a teenager.”
It is about religion, but the four girls never seem to talk about it.” she continued. “we see they are trying to study the book of Ruth. It is a super short book, yet the characters meet for weeks on end without (opening it).”
When Mutombo learned that the play had been picked up she brought along former schoolmate Natasha Mumba to be the director. Mumba, a Toronto based multi-disciplined artist is probably best known for her acting roles with The last of us and Handmaid’s tale popular TV series.
“It has been great! Coming to the theatre” she said. “We started work shopping in 2021.”
“In the African emigrant community there is a dominance by men. Young women have no opinion. So in this liberal space, Rachel and the other cast members speak out for the first time.”
Vierge stars Yvonne Addai, JD Leslie, Kudakwashe Rutendo and Shauna Thompson. It is on now at the Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St) until april 30, 2023.