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Review: Pusha Man

27 Nov 2005

“No mellow ... let it burn. This is the source of all strength!”

Passe Muraille Theatre is currently hosting, until November 27th, a remarkably eclectic series of nine plays followed by a weekly music nights series, as part as Stage3: Word.Power.Sound. The sheer length, breadth, and diversity of this production spells out one thing loud and clear: "Theatre is back in Toronto." I''ve had friends in the theatre community for many years and have gone to a lot of play openings attended mainly by friends, family or colleagues of the actors or playwrights. Some plays great, some not so great, but those who came to support were too often insiders of a closed community. My best friend of 15 years, who graduated a few years ago from the playwright programme at National Theatre School in Montreal, told me many times of a hard road with little reward but the genuine love for her art. Especially difficult was her experience in getting exposure as a playwright of colour. But how things are changing indeed. Now, she no longer needs my couch to crash on when in town for yet another meeting with this or the other artistic director.

Granted, the theatrical promised land with unlimited budgets still isn''t at our doorstep but no one can deny that there is a much-warranted rejuvenating wind. Talking to Toronto-based playwright Dian Marie Bridge at last Thursday''s opening night of Stage3, she echoed the sentiment that "theatre is back" after some difficult years. As I made my way in, the Mainspace Stage was packed on a particularly busy night with many events in the city. No one has "that" many friends. Good thing these talented multicultural artists and playwrights "let it burn."

That night, the Mainspace Stage featured two plays by Trinidadian-born Toronto playwright Joseph Jomo Pierre: Born Ready and Pusha Man. I was particularly moved by Pusha Man. This story of redemption through strength of character -- amid pain, rejection and insecurities not only tells the tale of one tortured soul -- but also teaches a lesson to the community at large.

The play opens with actress Cara Ricketts (Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare Works) playing Sarah -- a pregnant woman screaming in agony on the floor. She is begging her partner Benjamin (played by Mike G.-Yohannes) to "get her mellow" and rescue her from her intense travailing pain.

Out from the darkness at the back of the theatre comes along the "Pusha Man" dressed in a sharp suit and holding a bright blue bottle of Alizé. The role of Pusha Man is played brilliantly by David Collins (Top Gun the Musical and Orsino in Twelfth Night, CanStage). Under the beat of Ice T''s classic song I''m Your Pusher, he brags to the audience about his power.

Benjamin runs to Pusha Man and begs him to get his girlfriend, Sarah, mellow. Pusha Man refuses to take Sarah out of her misery. "Let it burn" he says to and agitated and confused Benjamin. He pleads with Pusha Man again but to no avail. As Benjamin expresses his anger and frustration at Pusha Man, we learn more about their father-son-like relationship. Benjamin is no stranger to Pusha Man. He calls to him every time he needs a fix. Benjamin has felt like a failure all his life and Pusha Man has always been there to numb the pain.

But perhaps in an act of unexpected love, Pusha Man decides to ease his iron fist and forces Benjamin to face his demons. Uncharacteristically, he event allows Benjamin to openly defy him. "My mighty fists go in my pockets and they are staying there" he tells him. He encourages him to "grab his balls" and be a man as they journey through some heart-wrenching truths. "I don''t want you to fear me but respect me" Pusha Man goes on to say.

As Benjamin is forced to face his fears of failure, and the sources of his love for Sarah are tested to the limit, he learns to embrace his true hidden power and ultimately tames his fear of love.

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