BORN READY/PUSHA MAN by Joseph Jomo Pierre (Theatre Passe Muraille/Obsidian). Runs in rep to October 29. See listings for details. Rating: Born NNNN ; Pusha NNN Rating: NNNN
Theatre Passe Muraille and Obsidian are turning us on to an important new playwright, Joseph Jomo Pierre . He explores the young urban black experience with a keen ear and a strong sense of theatricality. Born Ready and Pusha Man don't work equally well, but there's a strength in the writing and production that makes an immediate impact. You feel the viewers sit up and take notice.
Born Ready examines the social and psychological set-up of black-on-black violence rather than focusing on the gunshot fired at the play's end. It's clear from the first that Blackman (Pierre) and B-Side ( Mike G-yohannes ) are going to meet across the barrel of a gun, and the writer teases out the reasons that bring them to that point.
He does so in a striking dramatic fashion, avoiding academic analysis and the kinds of comments you'd find in a band-aid report from a service agency. His language is pungent with imagery, and razor-sharp speeches depict two young guys lacking father figures, caught in a cycle of poverty and disempowerment.
Blackman's the more smiling and open; B-Side's more guarded and suspicious. But Peggy Sue ( Cara Ricketts ), the woman who knows them both and often functions as the tale's narrator, tells us that each finally recognizes himself in the other. The two men are parallel figures.
Pierre has a gift for creating characters that are both archetypes and flesh-and-blood people with simple, real emotions. He gives them an ironic humour as well as a drive to get somewhere other than where they are. Drugs and sex are ways to escape from the unhappiness and stress of their lives.
The production, sharply directed by Philip Akin , couldn't be better. The cast is electric, and Trevor Schwellnus 's multi-stair set and often menacing lighting makes great use of the levels in the Passe Muraille Mainspace.
Pusha Man has some of that same energy, but the characters are largely types. We're distanced from them, watching them more often than feeling with them.
The piece deals abstractly with spiritual concerns. The natty Absolute ( David Collins ), a godlike figure, offers both pain and wisdom to a young couple (G-yohannes and Ricketts) looking to become "mellow." In a key way, Pusha is a father/son story about learning respect and responsibility, with the female figure less in the spotlight than in Born Ready. Again, it's well performed by Collins as a suavely powerful dude and G-yohannes as a confused man looking for the truth.
The writing's good, but not as resonant as that in the acid-tinged Born Ready.