Vibrant Portrayals, Deft Route Gentle Up Kanika Ambrose’s Our Place

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Pablo Ogunlesi and Sophia Walker in Our Place (Photograph: Gesilafeya Azorbo)

Theatre Passe Muraille & Cahoots Theatre/Our Place, written by Kanika Ambrose, directed by Sabryn Rock, Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace, Nov. 18 to Dec. 3. Tickets out there right here.

Kanika Ambrose’s new play Our Place is a kick up the evolutionary scale of Canadian theatre. By that, I imply completely ground-breaking.

Our Place offers no quarter to the viewers. Ambrose has written the dialogue within the thick patois of the Caribbean, and the stream of language is relentless. She has additionally positioned her motion in actual life. We’re listening to it, and seeing it, and feeling it. The play is théâtre verité on the excessive, and may nearly be classed as docudrama.

A phrase of warning: I used to be fortunate sufficient to be sitting the place I might see the captions of the textual content. Normally, when there’s a heavy accent concerned, my ear turns into used to it and over time, which means grows simpler. That’s not, nevertheless, what occurs on this play. Thus, I urge the viewers, (and Our Place is an absolute must-see), to request a ticket the place you possibly can view the captions if you’re not conversant in West Indian dialect.

The scene is the Jerk Pork Fort, one of many many Caribbean quick meals locations on Kingston Rd. in Scarborough. Andrea (Virgilia Griffith) and Niesha (Sophia Walker) are working a shift collectively. One gathers that Andrea has stayed in Canada after her work visa has run out, and so is now undocumented, whereas Niesha is near the top of hers.

Niesha is obsessed by the TV information that Canada is accepting 25,000 Syrian refugees who come off the aircraft into welcoming arms. They’re given locations to remain, jobs, and a observe to Canadian citizenship. The destiny that awaits undocumented feminine employees is deportation, except they will discover a man to marry them. The underside line is that the federal government should imagine that the wedding is an actual one, and never a setup.

Each Andrea and Niesha have form phrases for his or her never-seen employer, Yvonne. On one hand, Yvonne is taking a giant danger on hiring them; on the opposite, nevertheless, it’s pure exploitation. The ladies are incomes $10 an hour and dealing extra-long shifts, whereas their authorized co-workers get minimal wage and regular hours. Each ladies have left youngsters behind within the islands whom they’re supporting (and one does surprise the place the fathers are).

Because the play progresses, we be taught concerning the males of their lives. Andrea is making an attempt to land Malcolm (Tremaine Nelson), hoping he’ll decide to a long-term relationship. Whereas Niesha has combined emotions about what to do about Eldrick (Pablo Ogunlesi). One of many tensions that Ambrose builds into the script is that the viewers is ready for one or each of the fellows to develop into a rotter.

Andrea and Niesha are lives lived on the sting. The danger issue is a palpable factor to them, and any reversal of fortune is one other mountain to climb. For instance, even discovering a brand new place to stay is fraught with hazard. Ambrose’s textual content is so intense, so searing and so reasonable, that we really really feel their ache.

Griffith and Walker are two of one of the best Black actors in Canada. They’ll play something, from lofty Shakespeare and the classics, to the West Indian immigrants of Ambrose’s play, and all the things in between. Their vibrant portrayals of Andrea and Niesha carry Ambrose’s troubled characters off the web page.

Intercourse is the device that’s Andrea’s modus operandi, and he or she spends what cash she has on low-cost wigs, make-up and slinky garments at Dollarama and Walmart. Her character shouldn’t be afraid to mouth off her opinions and hurl insults and sarcasm with ease. However as Griffith performs her and Ambrose has written her, Andrea’s bravado hides a really weak girl whose internal angst is heartbreaking. It’s a beautiful efficiency.

Virgilia Griffith and Sophia Walker in Our Place (Photo: Gesilafeya Azorbo)
Virgilia Griffith and Sophia Walker in Our Place (Photograph: Gesilafeya Azorbo)

Niesha, alternatively, is older and extra cautious. In truth, she is at all times warning Andrea to be extra cautious, so when she, herself, contemplates leaping from the frying pan into the fireplace, the inherent worry and suspicions that include the dangers make her very, very indignant. Walker’s arc, from even-tempered observer to a nerve wracked shrew, is magnificently executed.

The boys within the play are the catalysts of change for the lady, they usually couldn’t be extra totally different.

Tremaine Nelson, making his first stage look after credit in TV and flicks, turns in a cultured efficiency because the smooth and slippery Malcolm. Pablo Ogunlesi as Eldrick is extra approachable, and seemingly kinder and caring, and it’s to the actor’s credit score (and Ambrose’s script) that we aren’t positive simply what’s his fact.

Sim Suzer’s intelligent set has the viewers on three sides, whereas incorporating the structure of TPM into her design. She manages to slot in a sensible strip mall take-out joint, replete with counter and seating space. There’s additionally a bed room. Her costumes are splendidly character defining. Shawn Henry has offered the pin-spot lighting, whereas designer NON’s soundtrack has the lilt of the islands.

Director Sabryn Rock is a formidable new expertise, notably in the way in which she manoeuvres her actors across the set. For instance, the encompassing perimeters of the jerk joint are used as walkways, and the bed room platform stairs is a automobile. At one level, Rock even employs the TPM balcony. She additionally makes deft use of the accoutrements of the Jerk Pork Fort to maintain her employees busy with duties. Her pacing is quick and livid, with wonderful character line supply.

All the pieces about Rock’s imaginative and prescient for the play runs deep, and we’re proper there on Kingston Rd. with Andrea and Niesha. On the finish of the play, the multi-meaning title, Our Place, has turn into the saddest two phrases within the English language.

In her program notes, Ambrose factors out that the West Indian jealousy in the direction of the Syrians troubled her, even making her ashamed, however upon additional investigation, she realized that the employees’ difficult conditions have been the fault of a damaged immigration system.

And so the motivation, one presumes, for writing Our Place, was to show the battle for survival going through these employees, each undocumented and never, and the manufacturing shouldn’t be for the faint of coronary heart. Disturbing, unsettling are phrases that appear insufficient in describing the influence of this play.

I can add two extra phrases I don’t assume I’ve ever utilized in a evaluation earlier than to explain how I felt on the finish of Our Place. Guilt and helplessness.

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Paula Citron
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