BINTI’S JOURNEY by Marcia Johnson, adapted from Deborah Ellis’s The Heaven Shop, directed by ahdri zhina mandiela (Theatre Direct). At Tarragon Extra Space (30 Bridgman). To March 8. $15. 416-531-1827. Rating: NNN
The most moving moment in Binti’s Journey, based on Deborah Ellis’s children’s novel The Heaven Shop, is the description of a group of Malawi orphans weaving reed coffins for infants who have died of AIDS.
Adapted by Marcia Johnson, the Theatre Direct production introduces young audiences to topics that many North American teens don’t think about – poverty in the Third World, an African AIDS pandemic and prostitution as a means of support. But the play (and the book) are also about family and discovering the strengths that join people as well as the prejudices that keep them apart.
The title character, an initially privileged girl who acts in a radio drama and has a comfortable life, can’t deal emotionally with the aftermath of her father’s death from AIDS. The family is separated, relatives prove selfish and cruel.
Though Binti hopes for comfort when she goes to her grandmother’s, she finds life there just as hard, for the senior cares for AIDS orphans.
The script, a combination of narrated and enacted scenes, is a strong one, though it packs too much into an hour’s time; a few characters are only suggested and some episodes glossed over.
Still, director ahdri zhina mandiela’s production, which makes fine use of Mxolisi Welcome Ngozi’s movement and music, is a powerful and moving one.
Jajube Mandiela makes Binti a lively character who lets us discover the human truths of love, life and death along with her character.
The other performers – Lisa Codrington, Sefton Jackson and Dienye Waboso – put their own stamps on more than a dozen other figures.
The standout is the grandmother, a choral-voiced character who shows Binti that family is an inclusive rather than an exclusive concept.