THE BASICS: This free-wheeling adaptation of Shaw’s provocative 1932 novella is by Lisa Codrington, a young, black, Toronto-based actor and writer. It’s this year’s Lunchtime Theater offering at the Shaw Festival, playing on selected days at the Courthouse Theatre, at 11:30 am, through September 11th. BLACK GIRL runs approximately 50 minutes; there is no intermission.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: The play takes place in Darkest Africa, on the birthday of the Black Girl. The Missionary, who has been driven mad over the years by the girl’s incessant questions on matters ecclesiastic, presents her with a bible and sets sail for England, leaving her orphaned pupil to her own devices. The Black Girl decides that the only way that she will get any satisfying answers to the questions she poses is to ask God face to face. In very short order, she finds herself being advised by a number of Gods, would-be-Gods and important figures in the Judeo-Christian tradition, plus a few interesting outliers, like some stodgy, Kiplingesque colonials, and Black Mamba, a talking snake. As you have undoubtedly gathered from this précis, it’s a wild ride!
THE PLAY, THE PLAYERS AND THE PRODUCTION: While I’ll admit that I have never read the obscure original opus, it’s clear that adaptor Codrington has brought a lot to the table here. For example, the Black Girl steps out of character now and again to keep the Shaw character from reciting his wordy, philosophical preface to the tale! Fast-flying racial and gender references also speak to some updating of the material. There’s even some clever dialogue about how we need to continually contemplate, reappraise and revise our greatest creations—from the Bible to the works of GBS! This whirlwind send-up of Western religious tradition, with its goofy, outsized characters, is more than a little reminiscent of the old Monty Python. Obviously taken by the material, director Ravi Jain has produced a heady, high octane show on the very limited Courthouse stage. Kudos. My only quibble is with the ending, which seems abrupt and a bit muddled, a distinct come-down from the joy ride we’ve been having up ‘til then.
Obviously taken by the material, director Ravi Jain has produced a heady, high octane show on the very limited Courthouse stage.
The cast is very strong. Natasha Mumba is commanding as the Black Girl, an intriguing amalgam of forcefulness and innocence. Guy Bannerman’s’ Lord of Hosts and Graeme Somerville’s Almighty make a very funny, memorable duo. All the players are afforded a moment or two to shine.
The surprise set and fine costumes are from Camellia Koo. All production values are up to the Shaw’s high bar.
IN SUM: Score another winner for lunchtime theater at the Shaw! If you are not a hidebound conservative, if like your plays fast, smart and funny—this will almost certainly float your boat!
PS: Because it’s a one-act, the price tag is considerably lower than for any of the Shaw’s other, “regular” offerings.
Ben Sanders, Natasha Mumba, Kiara Sangster and Graeme Somerville – Photo by David Cooper
(You can thank my colleague Peter Hall for the introduction of half buffalos, which does allow us a bit of welcome latitude.)
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!