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LATE

Written by Marcia Johnson

Directed by Marjorie Chan

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BLACK MEDEA

Written by Wesley Enoch

Directed by Philip Akin

**

At Berkeley Street Theatre

in Toronto

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Philip Akin has a problem. He's artistic director of Toronto's Obsidian Theatre Company, which is essentially charged with developing and utilizing the talents of black actors, writers, designers, etc. At the same time, Akin feels strongly, and justifiably, that art needn't be ghettoized behind racial or ethnic walls. He wants to broaden the company's mandate so that no enterprise is beyond Obsidian's reach. The two shows that opened this week, both one-act affairs, reflect his desire for more colour-blind choices.

The three characters in Late, by Marcia Johnson, are black, but their situation could apply to anyone. Shifting from past to present (a rewinding tape reel serves as the audience's audio cue), the play tells the story of Donna (Sabryn Rock), a young woman recovering from the sudden death of her beloved husband (hence the title). Her downstairs tenants, a struggling young black musician (Locksley, played by Mazin Elsadig) and his sublessee (Carol/Edwige Jean-Pierre), an older woman fleeing the end of a disastrous relationship, attempt in different ways to help her heal.

Set designer Tamara Marie Kucheran manages to do a lot with a little, turning a swatch of linoleum into both floor and wall, and a kitchen island into a bedroom. Among the performers, I was most impressed by Elsadig, who conveyed Locksley's awkward child-becoming-man component.

But I had trouble believing the others. There simply wasn't enough depth to Donna's grief, especially since the action takes place within a three-week period before and after the husband's death. And Carol's attempts at broad comedy seemed somehow at odds with her essentially depressed condition. There's more dramatic potential in the collision of these characters than the script provides.

Black Medea is Australian playwright Wesley Enoch's adaptation of the 2,400-year-old Euripidean tragedy. He has transplanted the story from ancient Greece to Down Under, erased several characters, jettisoned most of the plot, and tightly focused the story on the troubled marriage of Medea (Audrey Dwyer), an aboriginal woman, and Jason (Lindsay Owen Pierre), the adulterous, alcohol-loving man for whom she abandons her people and her culture.

Dwyer fully delivers Medea's strength, ambition and murderous sense of betrayal, but the production was marred by three series of puzzling and off-putting tableaux - they're in the script, not Akin's directorial choice - in which we see the couple frozen in moments of familial harmony, which slowly disintegrates. No dialogue, just de facto snapshots from the marriage. Blackout, scene, blackout, repeated far too many times. This might have worked with rear-screen projections of photographs. Inserted in the middle of the action, they are simply annoying.

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Later, the chorus, ably played by Mariah Inger and Tiffany Martin, paint Medea in her ancestral colours, and she stomps noisily about the stage in some furious facsimile of a tribal dance. Is her unspeakable act of vengeance supposed to be inspired by a late reclamation of indigenous culture? In the end, I'm not sure whether Enoch's aboriginal overlay - he's a Murri, from Queensland - adds to the Medea story or merely muddies it.

Bold choices by Akin. Just not the right ones.

Both plays continue until Oct. 5 at Berkeley Street Theatre, 26 Berkeley St.

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