Nightwood, Canada’s premiere feminist theatre company, challenges as it entertains in this look at BLM and race through a story about a friendship.
Nightwood Theatre/Every Day She Rose, co-written byAndrea Scott and Nick Green, co-directed by Andrea Donaldson and Sedina Fiati, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Nov. 23 to Dec. 8. Tickets available at buddiesinbadtimes.com.
Since its founding in 1979, Nightwood Theatre has been Canada’s foremost feminist theatre, whose forte has been a wide variety of challenging topics. The company’s latest world premiere, however, is different in a way.
First of all, Every Day She Rose features Nightwood’s first male writer, albeit, co-writer. Second, the play is absolutely Toronto-specific. The wellspring is the Black Lives Matter TO stoppage of the 2016 Pride Parade that made headlines across the country. Playwrights Andrea Scott and Nick Green have taken that seminal moment to explore its impact on a longstanding friendship, and the result is a provocative play that exposes just how fragile friendship can be when important matters must be confronted.
Every Day She Rose is a really smart play in terms of character and structure. Cathy-Ann (Monice Peter) is Black and straight. Mark (Adrian Shepherd-Gawinski) is White and gay. The two are long-standing friends and roommates living in Mark’s condo, he having the big bucks due to a corporate marketing job. Cathy-Ann, with her two degrees, is struggling to make do in low-paying positions for which she is over-qualified.
In a gutsy move, the playwrights break the fourth wall by having the actors become Andrea and Nick, impersonating the playwrights, who then discuss aspects of character, plot, motivation and dialogue. The abrupt lighting change and sound effect, courtesy of Rebecca Picherack and Cosette Pin, respectively, clearly delineate when we are in fiction, and when we are in fact, so to speak. As the play progresses, fault lines are revealed in the relationships of both sets of characters, as art imitates life, which imitates art.
Every Day She Rose begins benignly enough, as Cathy-Ann and Mark get ready to attend the Pride Parade. When Black Lives Matter stops the parade in its tracks, Cathy-Ann sees this as a wake-up call to her Black identity, and suddenly her friendship with Mark begins to include ideas of privilege and White supremacy. For his part, Mark fails to recognize the impact that the demands of BLM, including no more police floats in Pride, have had on Cathy-Ann. Her own brother, a pastor in Ajax, was put through a humiliating police stop, most likely because he was Black. As their conversations become more strained, so do the discussions between playwrights Andrea and Nick as to where their play should go. It is a fascinating evolution of ideas in which Andrea and Nick move further apart on creative matters. Where each relationship is at the end of the play is very different, which raises even more questions.
Co-directors Andrea Donaldson (who is White) and Sedina Fiati (who is Black) have had to be sharp in detailing character and relationships because two actors are portraying four different people, and they do a very good job ensuring the audience sees each individual. This partnership also guarantees the integrity of the character portrayals, as they represent both the Black and the White perspective. Peter and Shepherd-Gawinski seem born to play the roles, particularly highlighting Cathy-Ann’s growing anger at Mark, and Mark’s bewilderment at what he can’t understand. Nick’s trampling on Andrea’s writing ideas is also done well. Both actors have a natural stage presence, which makes them absolutely believable.
Michelle Tracey’s set design is impressive. The back wall has an impressionistic view of the Toronto skyline, with Mark’s stylish living room sitting in front. When the actors are in Andrea/Nick mode, they move beyond the condo space, which, by necessity, confines Cathy-Ann and Mark. Costume designer Ming Wong has given Cathy-Ann a hilarious rainbow Pride dress to wear, while her choice of casual clothes is perfect in tone, with Mark being more expensively attired.
As an added feature, Nightwood has created an “Engagement Space” along the back wall, which is lighted up at the end of the performance. There, audiences can follow how the play developed, along with articles and photographs the playwrights used as source material, and many took the opportunity to peruse the readings.
I must admit I had mixed feelings about the police being banned from Pride, because I had fond memories of the constables warmly mixing with the festive crowd. I did, however, certainly have sympathy with the BLM demands, or, at least, I presumed I did. On the other hand, Every Day She Rose does a very good job of shedding more light on the Black Lives Matter arguments about police and racism. As well, one would not ordinarily think about White privilege in terms of a friendship, but this play brings that concept front and centre. I left the theatre with a whirligig of thoughts racing around in my head.
In retrospect, that’s what you want good theatre to do. As an audience member you want to be challenged. You want your ideas shaken up. You want your comfort zone tested. Every Day She Rose does exactly that and more, but in a most entertaining way.