BINTI’S JOURNEY adapted by Marcia Johnson from Deborah Ellis’s novel The Heaven Shop (Theatre Direct/Young People’s Theatre, 165 Front East). To December 9, Saturday-Sunday 2:30 pm. $15-$20. 416-862-2222. See listing. Rating: NNNN
What a difference a year makes in the life of the African teenager at the centre of Binti's Journey.[brefbreak]
At 13, Binti (Starr Domingue) is a performer on a popular radio show in Malawi; when her father dies of AIDS, she and her siblings, Junie (Kanika Ambrose) and Kwasi (Thomas Olajide), are split up and their inheritance taken by grasping relatives. Abused by the uncle and aunt who take her in, she escapes to her grandmother, Gogo, who runs a home for children - among them, Memory (Dienye Waboso) -- who have lost parents because of AIDS. In a very real sense, she discovers a new family who welcome and accept her.
Adapted by Marcia Johnson from Deborah Ellis's Novel The Heaven Shop, the hour-long production has had several Toronto productions since its premiere in 2008.
Even if you've seen the play before, it's worth seeing again - and taking children 13 and up -- in this Theatre Direct production presented by Young People's Theatre.
The text presents the emotionally rich narrative in simple, eloquent episodes that show Binti growing up in various ways. In part the story is about understanding and accepting those who are HIV-positive and dealing with AIDS; that's one of the challenges for Binti, who won't accept the fact that AIDS is part of her life.
Director Lynda Hill, like the show's original director, ahdri zhina mandiela, makes fine use of Mxolisi Welcome Ngozi's movement and music to bring us into the world of the play.
There are lots of fine touches, such as making Gogo a multi-voiced character presented by several of the actors, and having the cast change from sympathetic to dislikable figures in the blink of an eye.
The actors are generally strong, especially Waboso, who has a particularly sensitive way of portraying compassionate characters that never fails to touch the heart; her less friendly characters are just as sharply etched.
While Domingue shows us Binti's changes, she doesn't always get deeply into the young woman who goes from preening, self-impressed radio star to a humbled and responsible grown-up.