HAVE YOU SEEN ZANDILE? By Gcina Mhlophe, directed by Bunmi Oyinsan (AfriCan Theatre Ensemble). At Burton Auditorium, York University (4700 Keele) and Equity Showcase (651 Dufferin). To February 9. $10-$25. 416-364-7313. Rating: NNN
South African playwright Gcina Mhlophe’s Have You Seen Zandile? could be subtitled Little Girl Lost. Too bad the script sometimes feels lost, too; its narrative elements need ex-pansion. Luckily, the performances in the AfriCan Theatre Ensemble (ATE) production balance out its weaknesses.
We first meet Zandile as an eight-year-old Zulu child who’s being raised by her optimistic, forward-thinking grandmother Gogo in 1966 Durban. Their warm, generous relationship is broken when Zandile’s divorced mother, Lulama, snatches her away and brings her up in the Transkai coun-tryside. A decade later, discovering the whereabouts of Gogo, Zandile plans a reunion with the old woman who taught her love and storytelling.
Mhlophe’s play consists of isolated episodes, including some poignant dialogue, rather than a dramatic arc. Lulama, the show’s most underwritten character, has little motivation, and this kidnapper is too sympathetic when we finally meet her.Zandile’s choreographed praise poem to her teacher – which begins as a paean to African women – is ex-citingly done, but couldn’t we see something of that clearly important teacher/student relationship?
Design is minimal and Bunmi Oyinsan’s direction plodding, but the three actors invest the piece with such humanity that it almost glows. The always watchable d’bi young.anitafrika, with her wide eyes and even wider smile, is a mesmerizing Zandile as both child and teen, while Olivia Duodu as Zandile’s friend Lindiwe also exudes lots of energy.
The discovery for Canadian audiences, though, is well-known Nigerian film actor Joke Silva, who plays three roles, including mother and grandmother. Investing each role with finely etched physical and emotional detail, she’s almost unrecognizable from one to the next.
The show is worth seeing for Silva’s work alone.