Glad we caught the final performance of Theatre Archipelago 's premiere production, the double bill Just Jazz and Mad Miss . Both are monologues delivered by uprooted Caribbean women, the first a woman ( Honor Ford-Smith ) in 50s London whose dreams are clouded by racism, and the latter a contemporary piece about a troubled Jamaican ( Rhoma Spencer ) who lives on the Toronto streets.
In her own adaptation of a Jean Rhys story, Ford-Smith plays not only the central but also the subsidiary figures. While the show offers a vital history lesson in its look at a white society that devalues anyone of a different colour, the narrative has a predictable quality and the actor mostly draws generic characters.
Mad Miss, though, is fuelled by some fascinating storytelling and a larger-than-life figure in Isabella Francina Myrtella Jones (Spencer). Dramatized from a story by Olive Senior , the piece uses projections of a Toronto cityscape (photos by Claudia Kada and Kara Springer ) to set the scene.
Alternately a strict teacher, a loving mother and a meds-deprived hospital escapee, Isabella Jones lives in her own fantasies at Queen and Spadina. She tells pieces of her story to passersby in the time it takes the traffic light to change. Relying on ritual to escape the voices in her head, she relates a jigsaw-puzzle biography that's at times comic, at times upsetting.
Spencer, clearly relishing the part, fills the character with such a commanding presence and energy that the small theatre space sometimes feels like it will explode. It's hard not to be drawn into her world; viewers become first her class and then uneasy listeners on the street, privy to an upsetting tale that most people would rather ignore.
Doin' the Dora Monday
Want a chance to hear selections from some of the best new plays of this past year? You can, at the annual Dora Monday , a pre-Dora Awards event that brings together the playwrights nominated for outstanding new play to read from their scripts.
Among the playwrights at this year's Dora Monday, hosted by Linda Griffiths , are Erika Batdorf (Poetic License), Claudia Dey (Trout Stanley) and Gord Rand (Pond Life).
Get there early for the free event - it's usually a SRO evening. And there are door prizes. Monday (June 20), 8 pm, at the NOW Lounge (189 Church). 416-364-1301.