Review: Black Boys needs to dig deeper

BLACK BOYS by Stephen Jackman-Torkoff, Tawiah Ben-Eben M'Carthy, Thomas Olajide, with Virgilia Griffith and Jonathan Seinen (Saga Collectif/Buddies in Bad.

BLACK BOYS by Stephen Jackman-Torkoff, Tawiah Ben-Eben M’Carthy, Thomas Olajide, with Virgilia Griffith and Jonathan Seinen (Saga Collectif/Buddies in Bad Times, 12 Alexander). Runs to December 11. Pwyc-$39. 416-975-8555. See listings. Rating: NN

If you took note of the stark whiteness of Buddies’ excellent recent Gay Heritage Project, you’ll be hoping that Black Boys, written and performed by three Black queer men in the same venue, balances things out. Too bad it’s not as polished or as artful as that other show.

The well-intentioned work uses the lives and experiences of three talented artists to reflect on what it means to be Black, male and queer today. Their personal revelations cover everything from the recent Black Lives Matter protest at Pride to debates about gender conformity, shades of skin colour and the legacy of slavery.

These are all intriguing ideas, but you need more than ideas to create compelling theatre. And this script, directed by Jonathan Seinen, lacks dramatic shape or momentum.

Some individual scenes stand out, such as Thomas Olajide‘s monologue about discovering his sexuality through sudden pop-up fantasies of Mario Lopez. Tawiah Ben-Eben M’Carthy‘s touching story about a relationship with another Ghanaian immigrant could have been part of his Dora Award-winning show, Obaaberima.

And Stephen Jackman-Torkoff‘s tale about going out dancing is relaxed and fearless.

One of the best scenes is a queer reimagining of that familiar trope of the Black pastor (Olajide) getting his congregation, here in drag, all riled up.

But too much of the script is obfuscated by vague poetry at times it seems like the actors are hiding behind the poetry rather than delving honestly into their experiences. It’s a shame dramaturge Mel Hague didn’t get the writers to dig deeper.

Still, each performer has a unique style and energy. And Virgilia Griffiths‘s choreography helps give the piece a unifying look, and, especially in a scene by Olajide, often communicates much more clearly and persuasively than the text.

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