Next Stage Theatre Festival: Awake
Expect Theatre's Fringe hit about gun violence in Toronto gets a stunning revival at the Next Stage Theatre Festival
Presented by Expect Theatre/Spark Collective
Created and directed by Chris Tolley and Laura Mullin
Hurt runs deep in Expect Theatre/Spark Collective's 2011 Fringe hit Awake, a riveting play about victims of gun violence in Toronto's Jamestown neigbourhood, now playing at the Next Stage Theatre Festival.
Created and directed by Chris Tolley and Laura Mullin, the script is made up of interviews with residents of this "at risk" community, including gang members, youth in gang exit programs, mothers who have lost children to gun violence, and the police.
The production is set at the funeral of a young shooting victim, and opens with a stirring rendition of "Amazing Grace," performed by the ensemble (each depicting living characters) alongside organist Richard Wilson. Here we meet two grieving mothers: Nadia Beckles (performed by Beryl Bain), the mother of 18-year-old Amon Beckles who was killed outside a Jamestown church during a funeral service for his friend who had been shot the week before; and Audette Shephard (Quancetia Hamilton), who's 19-year-old son Justin Shephard, a rising basketball star, was found dead on a footbridge in downtown Toronto (neither case has been solved). Their stories are blended with a pastor's eulogy taken from Shephard's funeral (performed by Richard Stewart) and mixed with other voices: a young drug dealer named Heart (Lauren Brotman), gang member Wisdom (Peyson Rock), a youth outreach worker (Muoi Nene) and "Officer X" (David Shelley).
Featuring powerful, punch-to-the-gut performances by Bain and Hamilton as loving and protective mothers with contrasting coping mechanisms, and stand-out scenes by Brotman and Rock, Awake is a vital production that offers audiences a greater awareness of the issues at the heart of gang violence, and its ripple effect on the community at large. The subject matter is disturbing, but the cast and creative team manage to work an uplifting message of hope into the piece. Most of all, Awake is a call to action, and we need to take notice. Now.
Don't miss Awake at the Factory Theatre Mainspace until January 13. Visit fringetoronto.com for showtimes and to buy tickets.