We've attended a number of site-specific shows at historic Campbell House, the Georgian building at the corner of University and Queen, but Nightmare Dream makes the most striking use of the venue that we've ever seen.
Written by poet/playwright Motion, the co-pro between ift theatre and Newface Entertainment follows the emotional voyage of Simon, a black Canadian called back to Africa by the death of his father. Forced to deal with culture and events he's ignored, Simon embarks on a trip fraught with memory and history both private and public.
At the play's start, Simon (a strong Peter Bailey) descends the elegant winding staircase in Campbell House, a lengthy, trailing letter in his hand announcing his father's death and requesting his return to Africa to perform a burial ceremony. Wearing a bathrobe, he's in a semi-stupor, half awake and half asleep, all the more conducive to the fever dreams he undergoes.
He moves from coming upon his father's body in the basement to other scenes: a colonial dinner party where he's guest as well as victim, a choreographed meeting with British royalty, a celebration of African freedom, two ritual cleansings and a final exit to discover his own future. Over the course of the show, Simon travels through hundreds of years of black history in Africa and North America.
A grad student, Simon teaches African history but has never connected personally to the material. On his journey, he learns how he's been westernized, "civilized" and whitened; he must discover his own voice and name.
The often thrilling production, finely staged by director and creator Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu, moves the audience through various rooms of the period house, itself a symbol of the white culture built, in part, on the custom and "rewards" of slavery.
There's fine work by Neema Bickersteth as a woman who, in various guises, reminds Simon of his past and encourages him to face it, Joshua Browne as a white trader who relies on slavery and tries to convince Simon to accept its benefits and Jane Miller as a seductive queen who doesn't want to give up control.
The most striking performer is lithe dancer Pulga Muchochoma, in ceremonial dress and body paint, who wordlessly takes on a number of roles, including a personification of Simon's ancestral history, his father and a symbolic representative of subjugated blacks. Muchochoma makes a compelling figure even when shivering under the white man's dinner table, whose centrepiece is the ceremonial calf's head he wore in an earlier scene.
Motion's script, which grew out of a SummerWorks show called Dancing To A White Boy Song, is no less fascinating, a multi-layered blend of her poetry and speeches and writings by African leaders and thinkers, among them Kwame Nkrumah, Frantz Fanon, Patrice Lumumba and Jomo Kenyatta.
Snezana Pesic's production design combines African and colonial elements, the scrolled letter we see at the start taking on a number of uses. Thomas Ryder Payne's exciting, insistent sound design draws on the rolling of the sea, elegant drawing room music and deep, disquieting rumblings. A number of African songs and spirituals - Bickersteth sings in four languages - give the production an evocative feel.
Nightmare Dream is a show that should have more life; it closed after a four-day run last Sunday, February 24. How about bringing it back to Campbell House next year and offering school as well as public performances?
Shakespeare in the Ruff, the company that's returned summer theatre and the Bard to Withrow Park, holds a funder on Sunday (March 3) for its upcoming production.
They're calling the evening Original Shakespeare Practices, in which the actors tackle Henry VI, Part III with only a scroll containing their lines and cues. No rehearsals, no blocking, no cheating by looking at the full script. Entertaining mayhem will likely ensue.
The performance at the Monarch Tavern (12 Clinton) is followed by a dance party and an announcement of the company's 2013 show.
Theatre company b current launches a new play series, afterRock, this week at COBA's Studio Theatre in Daniels Spectrum (585 Dundas East).
The works given staged workshop presentations grew out of b current's rock.paper.sistahz festival and are at the next level of development.
Look for performances in rep of Roselyn Kelada-Sedra's Six & Eight, directed by Taylor Marie Graham, and Naomi Abiola's Seventh Heaven, directed by Rhoma Spencer.
On March 10, you can catch a reading of NourbeSe Philip's Harriet's Daughter.
Against the Grain, which offers unusual versions of musical theatre, opera and song, turns to song cycles with the double bill Kafka/Janácek/Kurtág.
György Kurtág's Kafka Fragments, based on excerpts about the human condition from Franz Kafka's letters and diaries, features Jacqueline Woodley and violinist Kerry DuWors.
Its companion piece is Leos Janácek's The Diary Of One Who Disappeared, in which a farm boy leaves home for the love of a Gypsy woman. Performers are Colin Ainsworth, Lauren Segal, Lesley Bouza, Eugenia Dermentzis and Sarah Halmerson, with AtG's music director, Christopher Mokrzewski, at the piano.
Artistic director Joel Ivany stages the two works.