Theatre Passe Muraille, along with its producing partner, Obsidian Theatre, has tried out a promising new idea this fall. Running for two months, Stage 3 Festival offers space to artists and, more importantly, to audience members from communities not normally represented on the city’s mainstream stages.
One of the fest’s highlights is on stage right now. Performed by d’bi young and directed by Weyni Mengesha, blood.claat: one womban story is a one-hour performance piece that reunites two of the leading artists responsible for the success of last winter’s runaway hit ‘Da Kink In My Hair.
Anyone who has seen d’bi young before will not be disappointed or surprised by the strength of her bravura performance in blood.claat. Obviously, she has worked tirelessly with her director and dramaturge Mengesha. The current show tells a fascinating story about a Jamaican girl becoming a woman while being almost overpowered by a heady mixture of history, sexuality, motherhood and violence.
During the course of this powerful piece, young flawlessly inhabits the personae of 10 different characters, moving seamlessly from one to another, often in mid-conversation. By using inflection, deceptively simple movement and body language, she and director Mengesha have managed to simplify and clarify a potentially complicated dramatic story. All this is achieved without costume changes; other than during her stunningly theatrical entrance, the actor wears the same plain shift dress for the entire performance.
Deceptively sophisticated use is made of sheets hanging on a line, Bibles, church lady hats and school bags to give her mesmerized audience clues about her swiftly changing cast of characters. Obviously, young and Mengesha are employing the same techniques used in most one-person performance pieces, but in blood.claat the skill and artistic technique is startlingly successful.
That young is able to perform at such a high level is itself an undeniable proof of the underlying theme of both this piece and of its predecessor, ‘Da Kink. Both plays are terrific celebrations of the strength and achievement of black women while making troubling points about the dangerous irrelevance of men to the communities that those women work so hard to support and identify with.
Far from irrelevant here, though, is set and lighting designer Steve Lucas. He has worked imaginative wonders in transforming the Passe Muraille’s awkward Backspace theatre into a convincing Jamaican world.