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NAC play deals with loss of faith + ticket giveaway

By Alejandro Bustos on October 26, 2015

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We are giving away a pair of tickets to the Friday, October 30 show of The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God at the NAC. To enter, send an email to apartment613@gmail.com by 4 pm Tuesday, October 27 with the subject line “NAC Theatre Contest – Adventures.” A winner will be picked and notified early Tuesday evening.

Theatre is a tricky business. Unlike a book, which is etched permanently on paper, or a movie  that can be repeated numerous times, a live play varies from production to production.

A strong night can be followed by a weak show, and then redeemed the following evening with another strong performance.

This thought passed my mind as I watched The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God currently playing at the National Arts Centre until November 7. (The play, which debuted in 2002, is named after a George Bernard Shaw short story).

With a large cast of 22 actors, this ambitious work is set in a black community in southern Ontario with deep roots in the area dating more than two centuries.

The main character is a woman named Rainey, played by Lucinda Davis, who is undergoing an existential crisis following the death of her five-year-old daughter from meningitis.

This horrific tragedy devastates Rainey, who subsequently quits her job as a doctor and then separates from her husband Michael, played well by Quincy Armorer, who is a preacher. Having lost her religious faith, Rainey must then deal with her ill father Abendigo, played brilliantly by Walter Borden, a retired provincial court judge who has little time to live.

As a story this play is fascinating. It tackles numerous themes – e.g. the loss of faith due to tragedy; the ugly side of racism in Canada – that make for excellent theatre.

It also has other elements that are quite good, such as the beautiful singing and dancing that lies in the background. Another strong component is Lotsa Soap, a gang of elderly black people led by Abendigo, who are fighting attempts by City Council to rename Negro Creek Road in their community. (The group’s name stands for Liberation of Thoroughly Seditious Artifacts Symbolizing the Oppression of African People).

While the white politicians on Council deem the name politically incorrect, the elderly revolutionaries want the road to maintain its moniker because it represents a vital link to the community’s African heritage. (The black descendants in the area came from slaves who fled the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries).

These positive aspects alone make this play worth seeing. However, two key weaknesses turn what could have been an excellent show into a merely good one.

First, this work is too long. Meant to run approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes – although when I saw it came close to three hours – the story’s length tests the audience’s patience.

Second, Davis’ performance as Rainey was so-so. This vital character is the key to this complex play, as her existential struggle is the focal point of the story. In the matinee production that I saw this past Saturday (October 24), however, the character of Rainey came across as flat and at times contrived.

With that in mind, we cannot forgot that theatre is a tricky business. With a stronger performance by Davis, another audience could conclude that this is a wonderful show, given that this play has many excellent elements.

Unfortunately, on the night that I saw it was undermined by a couple of key weaknesses.

The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God at the National Arts Centre plays at the National Arts Centre until November 7. Adult tickets start at $25 and can be purchased online.

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