Toronto’s Cahoots and Obsidian theatres co-produce writer Amanda Parris’ debut play
Other Side of the Game, currently being performed at Aki Studio, is the first professionally produced play by Amanda Parris. She is definitely someone to keep an eye on in the future. Her play is a powerfully written piece that gives voice to the often-unheard stories of Black women in Toronto.
Other Side of the Game moves between two different time periods and plotlines. One features a cell of Black activists in the 1970s, the other features a group of young Black folks in the recent past (I’m guessing mid-2000’s, given the flip phones everyone carried.) We’ve seen some of these characters before. What is unique about this play, however, is that it is the female voices that are center stage. Both stories focus on young Black women who are struggling to support their children, their friends, their lovers, and, most importantly, themselves under increasingly dire and exhausting circumstances.
The play is double cast, with each actor playing roles in both story lines. All the actors were impressive, switching back and forth between roles without missing a beat. Virgilia Griffith and Shakura Dickson gave my favourite performances of the night. As Akilah, Griffith portrays an activist who has seen too many friends and comrades lost in the struggle for racial justice. She is exhausted but keeps fighting because she “there is no room for tired in the revolution.” As Nicole, she conveys the strength and desperation of a single mom who cannot seem to win yet refuses to give up hope.
Dickson was both moving and funny as Beverley, an idealistic student who joins the activists even though she doesn’t fully understand the details of their ideology. Her energy stands in contrast to the others’ weariness. Though she starts out naive, over time she finds her place and her voice in the movement. As Shevon, she is Nicole’s more freewheeling friend. I really enjoyed how Parris shows the friendships between the two pairs of women. Although one is long-standing and one is recent, their relationships are the key to their survival.
I thought the play was beautifully staged and directed by Nigel Shawn Williams. The set is simple with garbage strewn chain link fence across the back and graffiti covered walls on the sides. In the middle are several large cement coloured blocks which get moved around to become chairs, desks, or benches. The action transitions seamlessly and artfully between the two stories. There was almost a dance-like quality as the actors exited and entered. I particularly liked the two scenes set in a prison waiting room. With movement and body language alone, the performers communicated the frustration, anger and powerlessness of their situation.
Parris is a strong writer with a unique and inspiring voice. Her script captures the language and rhythms of both the political dialogue of the 70’s and the hip hop inflections of contemporary Black culture. Her juxtaposition of the two plots was a great way to demonstrate how little has changed for marginalized communities. In Other Side of the Game, she shows how the racism and violence continues from one generation to another and also how the resilience of Black women enables them to continue fighting. It’s both depressing and inspiring. I highly recommend it.
- Other Side of the Game is playing until October 14- November 5, 2017 at Aki Studio (585 Dundas Street East)
- Performances are Tuesday – Saturday at 8:00pm and Sundays at 2:00pm
- There will be an ASL- Deaf Interpreted performance on Friday, October 20
- Tickets are $37, Arts Workers and Students $25 and can be purchased online or by calling the box office at 416-531-1402
Photo of Ryan Rosery, Virgilia Griffith, Ordena Stephens-Thompson, Shakura Dickson, and Peter Bailey by Dahlia Katz