Other Side Of The Game powerfully tests the limits of “ride or die” philosophy

OTHER SIDE OF THE GAME by Amanda Parris (Cahoots/Obsidian). At Daniels Spectrum (585 Dundas East). Runs to Nov 5. $25-37..

OTHER SIDE OF THE GAME by Amanda Parris (Cahoots/Obsidian). At Daniels Spectrum (585 Dundas East). Runs to Nov 5. $25-37. nativeearth.ca/otherside. Rating: NNNN

What does it mean to ride or die?

This question about loyalty lives at the heart of Amanda Parriss new drama that foregrounds the stories of Black women in Toronto who support friends, partners or family who get incarcerated.

Parris (CBCs Exhibitionists and Marvins Room) correctly points out that stories about imprisonment focus on those doing time (most often men), and not the struggles and difficult decisions left to (most often women) on the outside.

To examine her guiding question, Parris sets up two separate storylines that realistically explore different aspects of Torontos Black community. The first follows Beverley (Shakura Dickson), a naive and nerdy university student who joins up with a radical Black revolutionary cell led by action-oriented Khalil (Ryan Rosery), whos planning a rally protesting police killings. Beverley gets a lesson in the history of Black activism in Toronto through tension between Khalil and an older member (Peter Bailey), but also in their unchecked misogyny. Beverley befriends another veteran revolutionary, Akilah (Virgilia Griffith), who struggles to balance her dangerous revolutionary work with her commitment to her young son.

The second plot, which unfolds in alternating scenes, focuses on Nicole (Griffith), a new mom working at Shoppers Drug Mart but planning to train as a psychologist. She suddenly finds her ex-boyfriend Devonte (Rosery), who disappeared for two years, wanting back in her life but reluctant to change his ways.

Each story tests the limits of the ride or die philosophy, and culminates in characters deciding where their loyalties truly lie (to others or to themselves?). Common threads include unjust policing, and women working beyond capacity to support others, often in the face of overwhelming adversity and without the appreciation or reciprocal effort they deserve from men. The result is powerful, eye-opening, and educating.

Director Nigel Shawn Williams keeps the action rooted in Parriss realistic, but at times didactic dialogue. The alternating stories could be more clearly delineated if actors switching between characters added some small costume element, like glasses or a scarf. Also, much of the action later in the play involves characters receiving distressing news via cellphone. This is totally believable, but the calls get a little repetitive.

Through this important exploration of gender and loyalty in the Black community, Parris highlights a whole host of issues crucial for all Canadians to confront and consider.

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