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Theatre Review: Yellowman

23 Feb 2009


With Dael Orlandersmith’s Pulitzer-nominated tale, Yellowman, local director Weyni Mengesha adds to an already impressive list of works showcasing the powerful voices of black female playwrights featured on Toronto’s vibrant theatre scene. Showing until November 14th at the Berkley Street Theatre, the play is a co-production of Nightwood Theatre and Obsidian Theatre. It is also part of Nightwwod Theatre’s ongoing “4x4 Festival: An Off-Road Event of Women Directors.”

To mark its 30th anniversary season, Nightwood Theatre pooled from an inspiring repertoire of plays by contemporary women playwrights. Of course, Toronto’s Weyni Mengesha is no stranger to exploring the black female experience on stage. The award-winning director/dramaturge and Soul Pepper Academy grad is well-known for her impressive directorial work with da kink in my hair (TheatrePasse Muraille/Mirvish Productions/Hackey London), blood.claat (Theatre Passe Muraille/New York Hip Hop Theatre Festival), The Taxi Project (Pen Canada), Blink (Soulpepper/Luminato), and A Raisin in the Sun (Soulpepper Theatre/Theatre Calgary).

Yelloman, written by actress, poet and playwright Dael Orlandersmith, is a story about the internal ravages of black-on-black racism and it’s all-too-real external manifestations. It takes place in South Carolina’s Lowcountry region among the Gullah-Geechee people.

The two-character play features Alma (played by Ordena – ‘da kink in my hair and Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God), a dark-skinned woman who was raised by her uneducated mother, Odelia. Her mother’s ingrained self-hatred casts a venomous shadow over Alma’s self-worth and identity as a black woman. Born of a union between a light-skinned father and her dark-skinned mother Odelia, Alma feels abandoned by her father for being too dark and reviled by her mother for being a shade lighter than her. The other character, Eugene (played by Dean Marshall – Save My Lost Nigga Soul and DaVinci’s Inquest) is a light-skinned man born of the union between a dark-skinned father and light-skinned mother. Eugene also experiences a tense and confrontational parental relationship with his dark-skinned father. Eugene’s father’s inward-turned racial hatred manifests itself in the overt resentment of his son’s light complexion.

Alma and Eugene find comfort in each other as they both struggle to break from these suffocating legacies of generational internal racism. Despite the prejudices of their parents and community, Alma and Eugene grow from childhood friends to forming a strong bond of love.

The play is very monologue-heavy but the ability of the actors to convincingly play various characters and age ranges allows the story to move along smoothly.

Through its raw and honest language, Yellowman leaves few stones unturned in the exploration of the soul-shattering legacies of shadism inherited from slavery. The experience leaves the audience both touched and wiser about the possibilities of the undaunted spirit.

DATES: Until November 14, 2009

SHOW TIMES: Mon - Sat at 8:00 p.m., Wed 1:30 pm, Sat at 2:00 p.m.

TICKETS: Single Tickets: $20 - $45, Mondays: PWYC, Previews: $25, Passholders save over 50% on tickets

LOCATION: Berkeley Street Theatre Upstairs, 26 Berkeley Street

Available by calling (416) 955-0101 or online at http://www.nightwoodtheatre.net/

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