BWW Review: 11:11 Balances Spirituality and Reality in Urgent, Moving Story of Black Transman's Life
Defined as a "bio-mythical monodrama," 11:11 is an introspective and deeply personal look into writer and performer Samson Bonkeabantu Brown's life. From childhood to adolescence and into adulthood, Brown constructs his own paths as he discovers more about his gender, his family, and his ancestry. The connection to spirituality is a major aspect of the performance, with dance, vocalization, and narration adding to the emotionally heavy story.
Carrying a one-person show can be a daunting task, but it's one that Brown excels at here. His ability to balance severe subject matters, like apartheid in South Africa, with comedy is highly successful. Because his story is not just his own, but his ancestor's as well, he takes on unknown and deceased family members to add characters to his story. One highlight is a grandparent who explains colonization, apartheid, and the mistreatment of African people with a lilting accent and fantastic comedic timing.
The staging and scenic design of the story are kept minimal, with numerous white rocks laid out and piled around the stage. Brown makes good use of the props, interacting with each stone as a part of his story, and his choice to move the rocks around after they've been placed is a nice allusion to his control over this story. Nothing is set in stone (pun not intended) for Brown, and if certain aspects of his early life need to be reviewed and adjusted, then he's willing to do so to improve his journey and where he ends.
The use of lighting (lighting design by André du Toit) throughout the show is highly effective, with changing colours and frequencies signalling his movements between reality and dreams. The inclusion of pre-recorded singing, vocalizing, and ambient sounds enhance the ritualistic and spiritual aspects of the show well, and the the show's projections are mostly effective. At times, the projected maps and photos feel a bit repetitive, but remain relevant to the plot regardless.
As part of Why Not Theatre's RISER Project, 11:11 is dramaturged and directed by d'bi.young anitafrika and produced by AVO Collective in association with Triangle Pi Productions/Brett Haynes. At its core, it is a personal look the life of a black transman, and benefits greatly from Brown's ability to openly share the highs and lows of his journey. The raw emotion behind 11:11 is its driving force, and the simplicity of its staging combined with Brown's expert approach to storytelling is what makes it such a stellar work. At a time where the rights of transgender people are constantly under threat, Brown's voice is not only technically impressive but urgently needed.
11:11 runs until June 1 at The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St. West, Toronto, ON.
For more information or to buy tickets, visit http://theatrecentre.org/?p=13035
Main image credit: Brett Haynes