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Our Fathers, Sons, Lovers and Little Brothers – Review of New Play by Makambe K Simamba at Tarragon

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Our Father, Sons, Lovers and Little Brothers, the title of Makambe K. Simamba’s new play, gives the impression of a work that needs a huge cast covering perhaps generations. In fact, it is a one-person play that covers the lives of Blacks from alpha to omega or, to put it precisely, from here to eternity. All of it is acted by the author in an extraordinary performance.
When the lights go on, we see a young person struggling to stand up. In the background we see e the night sky with small lights flashing. We learn that the young person’s nickname is Slimm. He contorts his body, falls down several times and gets up on his feet with great difficulty. Makambe is a woman with the voice of a woman. Slimm is described as a boy in the script but despite that, I concluded that Slimm could be either a man or a woman and in fact is Every Black Person.
I do not want to spoil the plot for you but some information is essential. Slimm is a 17-year-old student who has been killed. There are eyes watching him and he invokes God and says a prayer, “The Lord is my shepherd.” Slimm is somewhere “up there” but he is understandably lost and looks for an instruction manual. A large book appears on a stand and it is a manual for “Your Journey to Your Ancestors.”
Before meeting his ancestors, Slimm tells us that God is a Savage and relates the story of how God ordered his “homeboy” to build a huge boat in two months and fill it up with pairs of all the animals. God can cause a flood but he can’t build his own boat? asks Slimm. And then God addresses his friend Abe in disgusting racist terms and tells him to sacrifice his only son. Abe is about to do it but God tells him he was just kidding. Makambe’s telling of both incidents is hilarious.
Slimm starts following the step-by step instruction manual and at the beginning of the rest of his eternity meets his grandmother, his parents, his brothers, his friends Dennis and Rachel. In her bravura performance Makambe becomes all of these people. The scolding mother who is worried about Slimm’s skipping classes, misbehaving and getting bad marks. The father instructs him how to behave when stopped by a cop, the older and the younger brother.
These are not Slimm’s only ancestors. He ranges back to Abraham and Noah to all the Blacks who ever lived and were killed. Slimm near the end gives us his real name and the fact that he was killed in 2012. He gives us dozens of names of victims and their ages from the 19th century to the 21st. It is as if he were reading tombstones until he comes to the end and he does not have to read the last one. It is his own.
Makambe started with a simple but brilliant idea of telling the story of a boy of seventeen after his death and looking back to the long past, to all his ancestors and facing eternity. The task of writing a play on that subject seems insurmountable but she found the means of devising a play and performing it. Aside from acting out all the roles Makambe must perform with considerable physical activity, all of it adding to a stunning performance.
Kudos to Donna-Michelle St. Bernard who directs and, with Choreographic Consultant Shakeil Rollock, choreographs the performance. Trevor Schwellnus’s set consist of a few props on the stage but the video design has a complexity of images as we go through Slimm’s and his ancestors’ lives.
This is a Tarragon Theatre and Black Theatre Workshop co-production and it is based on the world premiere production produced by b current, [sic]. In addition to the in-person run, people can see digital streaming of Our Fathers from Tarragon Chez Vous from March 22 to April 10, 2022.
Our Fathers, Son, Lovers and Little Brothers by Makambe K Simamba continues until April 10, 2022, at the Tarragon Theatre, Extra Space, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario. www.tarragontheatre.com

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