Randomness and Determination

  • Photo courtesy the Black Theatre Workshop.

The lights go black; the room falls silent. Quiet sounds fade in, and white lights illuminate the actress sitting at centre stage on a wooden chair. The red lights behind her glisten, and the ambiance becomes somber. She begins her lines in a clear voice, heavy with a British-Jamaican accent.

A young Black woman tells her story in the present tense, taking us through morning until afternoon. Her alarm clock goes off, and she unwillingly heads downstairs long after she finally feels awake.

Her daily routine begins—breakfast, school, classroom casualties. But by afternoon, what seemed to be a normal day turns out to be anything but normal. She rushes home to find policemen in her home, speaking to her parents about her brother.

One play—12 different characters—all played by one actor, Lucinda Davis.

A case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Random is a story of frequent racist shootings that took place in London over several years roughly a decade ago. The script, written by Debbie Tucker Green in 2007, made its first stage appearance in London in 2008 at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre.

The play was presented by Black Theatre Workshop, and ran from March 18 to April 4 at the MAI theatre in Montreal. The director, Micheline Chevrier, first heard of the play over a dinner conversation with a friend who resides in London, and found it to be impressionable.

“You can’t follow through with a play like this without an actor already in mind,” said Chevrier during a question period.

And it’s true. To be capable of playing 12 characters in one hour is impressive. The piece was highly focused on the performance aspect. Davis was able to seamlessly shift in and out of a diverse set of characters without confusing the audience.

It became nearly impossible to not get hooked into the world of the play and follow each step of the story with her. The repeated mention of time was an element that helped, as well as the on-point sound effect cues throughout, suggesting different scenes or times of day.

It was exciting to see Davis jump into different accents and drastically change her body language to portray each character. She went from sitting up straight with a young girl’s voice to slouching down in her chair with her legs apart joking like a cockamamie boy.

Her accuracy was humorous at times and truly believable, especially when she played the mother. The mannerisms, accent and emotion of the character were brilliantly captured.

The setting was intimate, with the audience sitting on stands surrounding the front of the stage. We were crammed in so tight that you felt bad for breathing on someone, let alone move. At about 20 minutes in, the room was a sauna. This was exactly what Chevrier wanted.

“It’s really the storyteller that is showcased here and I never wanted to take anything away from that,” she said. She knew that people would be forced to listen and focus in on the acting.

Although this play was well-performed, the story lacked originality. Perhaps the fact that it was about an abnormal situation rising out of a normal day was what did it. From the very beginning, the outcome of the story was predictable. It was so forcefully unexpected that it was expected. Nothing too outstanding set this story apart from others, and it seemed like it had been told too many times, whether in the news, in documentaries or in short stories.

The sound effects, rhythmic pacing and script did help with comprehension of the story, but they also seemed to give away the essence of it. At 7:45 a.m. this happens and then at 10:15 a.m., this happens—something bad was bound to be in store.

In the end, the single-actor factor is what set this play apart. The Black Theatre Workshop did a good job executing this project, spreading awareness of prejudice and the long-term impacts of acts of violence and racism, as they usually do quite well. However, the final resolution was predictable.

Random rests on the laurels of a terrific performer. Davis shines bright in this piece, and she carried the story with success.

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