WhyNot Theatre’s RISER Project (#notafestival) gives a boost to four deserving productions a year, and every year’s class is strong. 2019 brings us Samson Brown with 11:11, his first solo effort, under the directional and dramaturgical eye of hometown genius d’bi young anitafrika. Brown, whose Gillette commercial dropped just a couple days before the show opened, is having a big moment as he tends his transgender body and spirit in both media.
11:11 feels, in the best possible way, like a beautiful mess. It’s the loosely autobiographical story of Brown as a young person in the struggle – trying to make sense of his literal nightly dreams, his metaphorical life-actualizing dreams; his responsibilities to people he’s never met and to people he’s never been. As he begins to identify themes, find his way to answers, and learn the words for who he is and what he knows that chaotic feeling in which the show begins takes on a rhythm and a sense of organization, much like his life.
To be sure. it’s a bold choice – it doesn’t make for easy theatre. young anitafrika, as an artist, likes to give the audience some work to do and Brown has taken a page from that playbook here. Also like young anitafrika’s work, 11:11 rewards the attentive with a stunning resolution both visually and narratively (I won’t spoil the surprises; I’ll just say that a moment arrives and everything snaps into beautiful focus).
The strengths of this piece are Brown’s lyricism and comfortable, accessible pacing. The words are delicious and there’s time to chew on every phrase as he speaks. Parts of his history lesson, told in his mother’s voice and accent, did verge into a place of the didactic that I feel weighs the piece down somewhat. On the other hand I am not sure how else he could have solved the problem of how little Canadians know about the functional history of colonization of Africa and the mechanics of apartheid without it. I’m sure as he performs it more, solutions that don’t involve as much powerpoint will present themselves.
Overall, 11:11 does the thing theatre should do – it stirs us. Brown gives a big container here for people to walk in, generously, gently, and it’s hard to imagine an audience that could fail to respond.
- 11:11 is playing until June 1, 2019 at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West)
- See show page for performance times and details on audience discussion sessions
- Tickets are $12-$60 as part of RISER Project’s pay-what-you-can model
- Tickets can be purchased online, in-person at the box office, or by calling 416-538-0988