Expect Theatre presents the world premiere of AWAKE
7 July 2011 No Comments
Expect Theatre’s AWAKE is a powerful production, words that were echoed by many in the large opening night audience at the Walmer Street Baptist Church. In its outlines, the story revolves around the infamous 2005 shooting death of Amon Beckles, who was brazenly gunned down when he stepped out of a church as he attended a funeral service for a friend near Finch and Albion. Along the way, it tells the stories of a wide cross section of the inhabitants of the Jamestown area, all of their lives affected by gun violence. It gives a voice to the human realities behind the troubling headlines of one of Canada’s most notorious neighbourhoods by using a script taken from hundreds of hours of interviews with its people. Those words are delivered verbatim, their truth adding a real poignancy and weight.
AWAKE begins and ends as a funeral service presided over by an eloquent pastor and live organ music. Sections of the service and the pastor’s speeches punctuate the narratives of the rest of the cast, who spill out their stories one after another. There’s the girl who began selling cocaine at 14, and witnessed her first murder at 15 when random racial violence erupted on the street right in front of her. There’s the kid who begins his morning by having to jump over a puddle of urine in the elevator. There’s the voice of Nadia, Amon’s mother, and that of another woman who lost a son to the neighbourhood’s pervasive cancer of gangs and guns, alongside those of the kids who see selling drugs as the only thriving business. The voices of the area’s cops round out the mix with a kind of us-and-them view that judges everything from the outside.
What emerges is a culture of fear and poverty-driven necessity; even so, the voices present a complex portrait of a place where there’s still hope under the tragedy. There are flashes of humour in the opening segments, and although that gives way to a darker atmosphere as the stories get more intense, the mood is alleviated by musical sections, including dance numbers and rap vocals by youth artist URV. The church itself is a gorgeous old structure that adds to the piece with a unique atmosphere, including a full sized organ, stained glass windows and flickering candles.
The very talented cast was uniformly strong in being able to convincingly bring the string of characters to life, many of them taking on more than one role. Beryl Bain as Nadia and Quancetia Hamilton as the other mother are especially riveting, and the actors are rounded out by dancers Raffaele Brereton and Tazz Blaze. Their commitment to the material is obvious.
The real Nadia Beckles was in the audience last night and took a round of applause herself for her courage in being able to tell such a heartrending story so candidly. I’m expecting this will be one of the most talked about shows at this year’s Toronto Fringe Festival.
Featuring: Beryl Bain (Shaw Festival, I Marcus Garvey), Lauren Brotman (Dora Award for Theatre Direct’s And By The Way Miss), Quancetia Hamilton (Da Kink In My Hair at Princess of Wales), Muoi Nene (Obsidian Theatre’s Ruined, Volcano’s The Africa Trilogy), Peyson Rock (Soulpepper’s King Lear, LKTYP’s Bunnicula) and Richard Stewart (Theatre Archipelago’s I Marcus Garvey) along with dancers Tazz Blaze and Raffaele Brereton and youth artist URV. Organist, Richard Wilson.
Created and Directed by Laura Mullin and Chris Tolley
Choral Direction by Andrew Craig
July 6, 2011 – continues to July 17
For more information on AWAKE and the Fringe Festival, visit expect.org/awake and www.fringetoronto.com