UBUNTU (THE CAPE TOWN PROJECT) by the company, directed by Daryl Cloran (Tarragon/Neptune/Theatrefront at Tarragon, 30 Bridgman). To March 1, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 2:30 pm. $10-$38. 416-531-1827. Rating: NNN
Theatrefront is expert at creating works that unite not only international artists but also stories from across the globe, so it's natural that their latest work, Ubuntu, deals specifically with the links that knit humanity together.
Here the South African concept of Ubuntu, togetherness, translates into parallel stories of parents and children, loss and discovery. Jabba (Andile Nebulane) travels from South Africa to Canada to search for Philani (Mbulelo Grootboom), the father who left him decades ago. In Toronto, Jabba meets Libby (Holly Lewis), whose mother Sarah (Michelle Monteith) has recently died.
The two narratives start to weave together mysteriously, with Holly's father Michael (David Jansen) holding the key to solving the puzzle.
Created over the past several years with various collaborators, Ubuntu is a collective work brimming with movement, magic realism and passion. Its first few minutes may be a bit confusing narratively, and Michael remains a rather shadowy character, but the drive of the story and its heart - a rhythmic drumming becomes an actual heartbeat - are never in doubt.
Working with a talented cast, director Daryl Cloran stages this time-and-place-shifting story with skill, swirling the action so that viewers are always clear about where they are in action that encompasses several generations. Lorenzo Savoini's lights and set help; he's concocted a series of swiveling walls made largely of suitcases, suitcases filled with surprises and suggestive of the story's physical and emotional journeys.
Grootboom and Nebulane, the two visiting South African performers, bring exciting energy to the production, the former in some humanly comic moments with Lewis's angry, hurt Libby and the latter in some wonderfully expressive scenes with Monteith.
Monteith is the emotional centre of this production, her initially shy and later passionate Sarah a marvel at communicating feelings simply but with winning conviction.