ORALTORIO: A THEATRICAL MIXTAPE Examines Society and Culture Through Black Music
Striking audio and powerful stories drive ORALTORIO: A THEATRICAL MIXTAPE as the lives of black women, never named yet eerily familiar, are brought to life in this new Soulpepper and Obsidian Theatre production, directed by Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu.
Through the eyes of two young Toronto women (Motion, DJ L'Oqenz), the 75-minute tour-de-force spans hundreds of years of black history, from ancient traditions rooted in African culture to modern day dancehalls, using popular music and effective audio samples. Motion masterfully introduces dozens of interesting characters, and manages to make each role unique. From the unrecognized singer in a touring show to the teen with a crush making a mixtape in her room, Motion raps, sings, dances, and poeticizes her way into and out of seemingly any situation.
Complementing her talent is DJ L'Oqenz, who remains stoic and seemingly untouched throughout most of the show. Stationed behind her set-up, DJ L'Oqenz delivers an incredible set of music and accompaniment to each story told, and the few moments where she interacts with Motion's characters flit between funny and frightening with ease.
ORALTORIO leans heavily on the music and sounds of black artists - those easily recognizable for their modern Top 10 hits, and the ones who struggled against oppression and were silenced in favour of white performers. One short tribute to Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton was incredibly fitting and managed to sum up the show's overarching theme in one quick transition.
Despite multiple features focused on entertainment, ORALTORIO doesn't hesitate to bring up issues like police brutality, slavery, and sexism - and does so beautifully. Motion and DJ L'Oqenz's ability to coordinate sound and performance to build tension is brilliant, but at times feels a bit cut off. Words and volume speed up and increase, the story reaches its crux, and often the next scene starts right away and the audience is transferred into something more lighthearted. That tension never really goes away, though, and results in a strong, satisfying finale.
Set design (Jackie Chau) is minimal, and rightfully so - the focus of ORALTORIO is clearly on sound (Thomas Ryder Payne, DJ L'Oqenz) - however each movement, prop, and artistic choice feeds into the power of the show. Gorgeous lighting (André du Toit) assists the transitions between stories and drives some of the most striking moments, however the column of white LED panels behind DJ L'Oqenz's table is almost painfully blinding and distracting when used.
Through poetry, song, dance, and dialogue, ORALTORIO: A THEATRICAL MIXTAPE is a moving collection of stories woven into a complex show, and it's perfectly at home here in Toronto.
ORALTORIO: A THEATRCAL MIXTAPE runs through October 20 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane, Toronto, ON.
For more information or to buy tickets, visit https://soulpepper.ca/performances/oraltorio-a-theatrical-mixtape/6157
(photo credit: DJ L'Oqenz and MOTION, by Cesar Ghisilieri.)