Other Side of the Game is a new play by Amanda Parris. It is her first play and it deals with the plight of blacks especially in Toronto. There is a great deal to cheer about a first play by a Canadian that examines the sorry plight of a segment of Canada’s population.
The play opens on a scene in front of a high chain link fence where five people are sitting on folding chairs. They say nothing for a few seconds, then they scream simultaneously or individually, yawn, fidget and show signs of frustration. They are in the waiting room of a jail waiting to see a prisoner and they face the faceless and rude bureaucrat who corrals or is supposed to corral them to the visiting area. Corral may not do justice to the description of the way they are treated. The scene lasts longer than it needs to but the message is unmistakable.
Ryan Rosery, Virgilia Griffith, Ordena Stephens-Thompson,
Shakura Dickson, Peter Bailey - photo by Dahlia Katz
Other Side has a cast of five (three men and two women) and they each play two roles. There are two parallel plots and the actors change from one role to the other seamlessly and at times confusingly. I had difficulty following the two plots all the time.
Beverly (Shakura Dickson), a bright-eyed girl form Halifax, wants to join the movement. She meets Khalil (Ryan Rosery) and Akilah (Virginia Griffin) who grill her about her knowledge about the issue.
We quickly find out that these people are involved in starting a revolution. Is it Trotskyite or Leninist, we are not sure, but they are talking the language if not the rant of a bygone era when people advocated the uprising of the proletariat against capitalism. They are erudite and knowledgeable and can put a policeman in his place by quoting case law to her face.
We know or think we know something about racism and mistreatment of blacks and other minorities. The behaviour of the police department of “tolerant” Toronto towards blacks is frequently nothing short of disgraceful and it is continuing. That is one small example of what is happening in a fair city on our fair country.
Parris thus attacks a grand subject and as I said deserves credit for attempting to deal with it. Unfortunately what we get is a bit of muddle. There is no reasonable daycare for a black mother’s child. There is no reasonable daycare for anyone making low wages. The young man who did not finish high school and has a minor criminal record cannot get a job because of racism. Touché.
Virgilia Griffith, Shakura Dickson 2 - photo by Dahlia Katz
Parris mixes the political with the domestic and throws in a love interest but the whole thing lacks focus and appears like a number of short scenes that lead nowhere.
Director Nigel Shawn Williams tries hard to bring the whole thing together and gets good performances from the five actors. Peter Bailey plays Elder who has been around and knows the mechanics and the politics of protest. But he does have a shortcoming: he is living with a white woman. He also plays Winston, a shady character in the community.
Virginia Griffith is the tough and savvy member of the movement and a distraught mother trying to raise a child. Ordena Stephens-Thompson plays the cop and the social worker. She is black and is abusing blacks. The revolution needs to convince its natural followers to follow it, it seems.
People are arrested, kept in pre-trial custody, and sent to jail with no mention of what offence they committed. Canada may have faults, but no one is kept in custody without cause and no one is jailed without a charge and a conviction after a trial. Parris rides roughshod over all details and the idea of a few Marxists of whatever shade overthrowing everything struck me as jaded and hollow.
Other Side of the Game by Amanda Parris in a co-production by Cahoots Theatre and Obsidian Theatre opened on October 18 and continues at Aki Studio, Native Earth Performing Arts, 585 Dundas St. East, Toronto, Ont.