By Dana Lacey
Marcus Garvey was a journalist, publisher and professional public speaker: the Jamaican activist was an avid proponent of the Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism movements and founder of Garveysim: a global mass movement to empower Africa.
Mixed in with inspired monologues about freedom were glimpses of Garvey behind the revolutionary scenes: his dry, understated wit; proposing to his girlfriend; sinking with self-doubt in prison; getting an earful from his housekeeper (and everyone else, for that matter).
The audience roared at the antics of the chorus, comprised of four people who played most of the secondary characters. The band, which sat onstage the entire play, started to creep onstage: this musical peanut gallery got louder as Garvey’s speeches became more and more mob-worthy. I loved that the band was called on often to play music: the score included traditional Jamaican songs, African revolution songs and even a taste of Bob Marley’s Redemption Song. All were sung by the talented Barbados-born, Toronto-based Roger Gibbs (also the play’s musical director).
Quancetia Hamilton twice stole the show; first, as a tear-eyed sister forced to turn Garvey away from her home, and then as hilarious and wise nanny to Garvey’s children that often sent the audience roaring with laughter.
Richard Stewart was a fabulous Garvey. He seemed to age along with his character, who we follow from naive and fierce youth through prison, fatherhood and, eventually, exile. His political monologues were impassioned, yet reserved enough to let the message seep in. Garvey liked to say, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”
I, Marcus Garvey runs until March 27
Tuesay to Saturday 8 p.m., Sun 2 p.m.
Papermill Theatre, 67 Pottery Rd, Toronto.
Photo Credit: Beryl Bain and Richard Stewart – Photo by Kara Springer