TOUCH THE SKY By Michael Miller, directed by Allen MacInnis (Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People, 165 Front East). To March 1. $15-$20. 416-862-2222. Rating: NNN
Michael Miller’s Touch the Sky reaches pretty high, but it doesn’t quite arrive at its destination.
A fairy-tale-like narrative inspired by a story from the Carolinas, it deals not only with racism but also with freedom and choice, the former not easily won and the latter not always obvious.
Belle (Patrice Goodman) is the child of a white plantation owner (Patrick Garrow) and one of his black slaves. Freed at birth by her father, she believes she can choose her own husband; she loves Joshua (Omar Forrest), but her father wants her to marry Caesar (Jamie Robinson). A curse spat out years before by the Conjure Woman (Karen Robinson), Belle’s godmother, adds to the story’s complications.
Emotionally parented by Eddie (Xuan Fraser) and Darmette (Ngozi Paul), Belle begins the play as a strong, confident teen who believes she’s the master of her own life. During the course of the show, she learns that such control isn’t always possible and yet, paradoxically, at times must be actively seized.
Director Allen MacInnis’s production grows in dramatic weight as it lays out the conflicts and tensions between characters on Teresa Przybylski’s impressive red-and-white set, suggestively lit by Rebecca Picherack. The theme of owning another person – whether that ownership is wielded by master, parent or lover – runs through the piece, giving it deep resonance.
I wish, though, that Miller had made more of the sinister implications of Belle’s birth, the moral crime committed 15 years before the action begins. That would strengthen the point of slavery’s heinous cost and the narrative thread of lost love woven through the play.
Touch The Sky also feels like a longer work that’s been trimmed. Some of the second half’s story – a death and burial, Belle’s later troubles – could use more leisurely exposition.
Still, the company – including Elizabeth Saunders, endearing as the Master’s chatty, emotionally wounded sister – energizes the production, driving it to a bittersweet conclusion.