THE ADVENTURES OF A BLACK GIRL IN SEARCH OF GOD written and directed by Djanet Sears, with Karen Robinson, David Collins, Walter Borden, Barbara Barnes-Hopkins, Lili Francks and Satori Shakoor. Presented by David & Ed Mirvish and Marquis Entertainment at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre (231 Queens Quay West). Runs to March 21, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday, Saturday-Sunday 2:00 pm. $35-$60. 416-872-1212. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Djanet Sears's large-scale but oh-so-human drama The Adventures Of A Black Girl In Search Of God returns for a good long run after its sold-out 2002 premiere. The minor flaws remain and somehow feel more evident.
But its sweep and power carry it through to the kind of devastating emotional climax that's rarely experienced in the theatre these days.
Medical-doctor-turned-grad-student Rainey ( Karen Robinson ) is still grieving the death of her child three years earlier. On the brink of a divorce from her minister husband, Michael ( David Collins ), Rainey also discovers that her ailing father, Abendigo ( Walter Borden ), is part of a plot to rescue and reclaim insulting African-themed artifacts from public institutions.
Sears bites off a bit too much in her tidily structured combination of the personal and the political, the entertaining and the educational. The comic heist subplot feels contrived - so much exposition in the first few scenes - as does Rainey's theological search. I also forgot how many monologues Rainey had in the piece, a shortcut that indicates a writer struggling with how to impart information.
The script and production are at their best when they're simple: a mother telling us how her daughter died; an old woman recounting being spurned by a lover; a community grieving the loss of a leader.
Sears's use of a 17-member chorus can be spectacular one minute, annoying the next. During some scenes, they physicalize a moment wonderfully, especially as they create, in the pit in front of the stage, a very symbolic creek that contains the history of the community's ancestors. The chorus's between-scenes set-moving, dancing and spiritual-singing, however, can occasionally elicit giggles. Can't they move a chair without breaking into song?
All this is forgotten, though, in the play's final quarter, as the primal pull of Sears's story tugs at the heart and the ritualistic staging elements pay off. The performances have deepened since the first version, especially Walter Borden's elder statesman, who looks more believably frail than ever. Newcomer Karen Robinson plays Rainey as more tragic, her face fused into a mask. She has less chemistry with her onstage partners than Alison Sealy-Smith did, something that should change during the run.
The loss I'm most upset about is Jackie Richardson , whose sheer presence and hall-filling pipes, especially at a crucial moment in the second act, were spine-tingling in 2002. As fine as Satori Shakoor is, she's not a first-class singer.
Richardson (currently in CanStage's Cookin' At The Cookery) is, and it's worth checking out the show when she rejoins the cast on January 6.