Can't we all get along?
Blacks Don't Bowl
by Vadney S. Haynes
directed by Nigel Shawn Williams
Black Theatre Workshop (MAI)
April 2, 2006
The new Black Theatre Workshop production Blacks Don't Bowl is a sneaky charmer: a light-hearted, winsome piece with a serious core.
The play starts amid controversy over an exhibition of contemporary black art, "Black Reflections-Reflets noirs". It pits Maurice and Janeen, the young people who've mounted the show against the "establishment" figure of Frank, director of the Montreal Black Association.
For Maurice (played by BTW stalwart Quincy Armorer), the show has the power of a crusade: "niggerizing the eye" to change the way black people see themselves and are seen. For Frank (Matthew Kabwe), whose organization funded the exhibit, it's the same old-same old: a representation of black culture swamped by gangstas, rappers, and ho's.
Soon other parties are drawn into the battle, hidden agendas revealed, and many tables turned in this look at the ways which prejudice and assumption inform a seemingly rational argument.
That our interest can be held so effectively in this straightforward "message" drama owes a lot to individual performers who have given the play a wonderful energy.
Most conspicuous is another frequent BTW actor, Omari Newton, in the role of Pinto, a worker at Frank's Association and would-be stand-up comic. Newton always has charisma to burn, and the bits of Pinto's nightclub act which punctuate the piece steal the production, making Blacks... into a connected framework of sketches building towards a whole.
Actor Jesse Aaron Dwyre is a fresh comic find as skinny jewish hipster Sherman, who, annoyingly, keeps beating his pal Pinto at hoops. His and Pinto's philosophisings on "Jews and Nubians", and their cutting banter (Sherman: "Why do you always put words in my mouth?" Pinto: "So I can hear you say something intelligent.") are among the truest in the production.
Blacks Don't Bowl wears its heart–and message–on its sleeve, but when a play can generate such a good vibe, and be this energetic and engaging, it's impossible not to like it.
Blacks Don't Bowl continues to April 9, 2006.
Black Theatre Workshop, at MAI (Montréal, arts interculturels)
Tickets/Info: (514) 932-1104, ext. 225
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