The Paper Plane
“Secrets of a Black Boy” – Opening Night Review
Last Friday I was given the opportunity to attend the sold out opening show of “Secrets of a Black Boy” playing until November 20th at Theatre Passe Muraille. Admittedly this was my first play that I’ve attended in quite some time, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Fortunately I was pleasantly surprised by the mix of theatre, music, and video that created a fully engrossing experience. The subject matter was serious and funny in equal amounts, and the play goes on just long enough to allow you to get to really know these characters, without feeling like it ever repeats itself. “Secrets of a Black Boy” has been in the making for some time now (originally staged in 2009), and it’s tale of a soon to be torn down inner-city community (Regent Park) shows an immense passion for it’s subject matter, and a sensitivity to those affected by these real-life struggles.
Upon reaching the theatre, I was immediately impressed by the feel of the venue which reminded of the Mod Club on a smaller scale, with it’s two story setup, and overlooking balcony. A poster outside the theatre advertised a show for Titus Andronicus, so apparently the similarities don’t stop there as this theatre doubles as a music venue. Once in our seats, I had time to admire the unique stage setup which featured giant piles of boxes that doubled as a screen to project images onto.
There was also a DJ on stage at all times who played one of my personal favorite songs by J-Dilla, “Fuck the Police” before the show opened with images of police brutality being projected onto the boxes, leading into a scene where an African native does a dance before being robbed of his tribal cloth and attacked by a gang of police officers. Although this scene didn’t have any direct connection to the story of the play, but served as an important precursor and foreshadower for the stories to come.
As the actual play commenced attendees were greeted by a warm cast of characters, that made me laugh a lot more than I anticipated I would. When the characters are all working together, you can’t help but smile from the way they navigate interpersonal relationships and make the best of their last night at a community centre playing dominoes together. The sad parts of the show mostly come from inner dialogue segments, that has each character reliving a traumatic memory (in some cases real memories), or revealing some inner turmoil that defines them personally. Each of these inner dialogues is as interesting as the last, and created a play that was funny one moment then serious the next, an experience no other medium can convey as effectively as this I’m afraid.
It’s also important to note that not once does the play come across as preachy about topics like gentrification or poverty. Any subtext about these issues comes naturally out of the character studies that take place. In the end the play sort of reaches a comforting conclusion that no amount of gentrification can take the community out of somewhere or someone, as the cast yells out “We are here!”, while the police come to break up their gathering. It may not bring back the homes out of the people who were displaced from that community, but “Secrets of a Black Boy” strives to show that through awareness and shedding light onto issues not often talked about, real change can be made for the future.
A post-show talkback was hosted by one of my personal favourite local artist, Shad Kabango. This gave a chance to delve deeper into the characters on stage, and where the audience got an explanation of how some of the actor’s personal backstories combined with that of their character. After the talkback was finished and before we left, I got a chance to meet Shad personally. I mostly just told him I was a fan of his music, but it was interesting to hear more of his personal opinion on the play. I’ll have to watch and see if his new record has any kind of influence from “Secrets of a Black Boy”. I certainly wouldn’t be caught off guard.
“Secrets of a Black Boy” is a remount production that originally was staged back in 2009 and again in 2013, right in the midst of the dissemination of Regent Park. While the displacement and integration process has long been completed, the relevance of the story remains valid. Here’s a promo trailer from those earlier productions. For more background on this production, read our preview piece.
As for queer content, the original production had a transgendered character, while this current one has one scene between two of the men that shows a questioning of their sexuality. I’d most definitely recommend catching this current engaging production before the end of its limited run.
Now playing at Theatre Passe Muraille until November 20th, 2016
16 Ryerson Ave, Toronto – Tickets
About the Author
Dylan Kulcher is an avid skateboarder, gamer, music fan, and aspiring journalist from the small airport town of Mount Hope, Hamilton. Always looking for a reason to visit the big city and network outside his comfort zone, Dylan vies to bring communities together with his writing. A member of many LGBTQ groups and participator in his local Pride rallies, he strives for transparency in his life and doesn’t feel like anyone should have to hide in the closet!.
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