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Appleway: Part B (A delightful play at Summerworks

04 Aug 2005

It's Summerworks time again. The annual theatre festival never fails to expose Toronto audiences to the best emerging playwrights in the country. Many gems which were discovered there followed a great path to success on bigger stages. As the director of Dian Marie Bridge''s new play, Djennie Laguerre, tells AfroToronto.com, Summerworks attracts many of the Canadian theatre''s best industry names because its refereed panel structure, and its willingness to experiment, gives the festival both credibility and a rare artistic edge. To quote Laguerre, "it's the best place to fall on your face." But fall on their face they certainly don't with Appleway: Part B.

I was fortunate enough to have been invited by the play's director to attend a pre-opening rehearsal at a Carlaw Street studio a few days before the start of Summerworks. As I opened the door to the trendy building, I heard the high-energy voices of the play's two actresses, Idil Mussa and Belladonna emanating from behind the black curtain hiding the main studio floor. I immediately thought: "now there are some passionate artists." Sitting down with them during a break from rehearsals, my expectations were indeed fulfilled.

The co-lead actresses of the play, Idil Mussa and Belladonna, play twin sisters who witness a train crash in the North York neighbourhood of Appleway. One thing they both have in common is that they are multi-faceted artists and community-minded activists who see theatre, and the arts in general, as an instrument for social change and awareness. Belladonna is an urban activist who is involved with Native Earth Performing Arts and also is a lead singer of rap group "The Awakening." For her part, Idil Mussa has been involved in promoting environmental awareness and has hosted for the past several years Canadian Geographic Kids, a children's television program on TVO. She is also involved in promoting social justice through her work with the RadioAcive Feminism Collective -- which delivers challenging feminist radio programming on CKLN 88.1 FM. Mussa's other artistic interests include photography.

They were both attracted to the idea of working with a quality playwright such as Dian Marie Bridge -- who delivers some powerful social commentaries on Appleway: Part B. The play tackles such issues as immigration, destructive behaviour (gossip) within the community, and prevalent cultural stereotypes. But what makes Appleway: Part B so unique is that those issues are seen through the eyes of the two young girls growing up in the 80's. "I have a jones for the 80's" says Bridge. "That's when everything got fast ... the minds began being poisoned by television." This explains the presence of two TV screens on the stage which play throughout the act. Director Djennie Laguerre points out how TV seems to always be on these days as the backdrop of everything we do. It becomes sort of a white noise that steeps us into numbness. This is the world the two sisters find themselves in.

As the actresses point out to me, adults often think that they can talk about such serious subject-matters as politics in front of kids without them necessarily forming an informed opinion about anything. Or worse yet, how many time have adults bad-mouthed friends or relatives in front of their kids without fully understanding the impact of their words on the youth listening.

Seeing them in action at the play's opening last night at the Passe Muraille Theatre, Idil Mussa and Belladonna blew me away at how convincingly they make the audience see the world through the eyes of children. In addition to playing their own characters, they interpret, through the vantage point of the children they are playing, the adults who are part of their lives. Their art of mimicry is astounding. A powerful scene in the play is when the sisters mimic the gossip-full reactions of elder women following the death of a young girl named Sunshine. Believing the girl died from lack of food, they blame her grieving mother for spending her money on shopping sprees. Another stricking scene is the "hip hop" segment where the girls rap about the pain of being ostracized because of their cultural background and accent. Their nemesis is Michelle who accuses them of "coming from nowhere." They decide to take revenge on Michelle by taking it out of her beloved dog Pepper. But things turn tragic. This tale of hurt, joy, guilt and ultimate hope is a theatrical jewel not to be missed.

See schedule @ Passe Muraille Theatre

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