The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God at the Centaur until October 18 is a riveting, highly theatrical excursion into the mysteries of life and death and the healing power of a faith community. At its core is the age old conundrum: How can a loving God allow bad things to happen to good people?
Djanet Sears, who wrote, developed and directs her own work engages us in a three hour fantasy of her making. Sears is a born story teller who has combined West African tradition with the fervor of an old time American gospel revival meeting to come up with an extravagant, vivid, and occasionally taxing, theatrical experience. The play explores the Black experience in Southern Ontario - present and future, and is rooted in the light of the past all the way back to the War of 1812, when Captain Runchy’s Company of Coloured Men fought for the British.
As the show opens, we learn that Rainey Baldwin-Jackson (Lucinda Davis) has lost her baby, and as a result has suspended her belief in God. She is in the middle of divorcing her husband, Michael (Quincy Amorer,) and to boot, Rainey’s free-spirit of a father, Abendingo, (Walter Borden) is on his last legs.
Abendingo is really the backbone of this production. He may be dying, but he hasn’t stopped living. Even as his daughter agonizes over her miserable lot in life, he leads a group of high-spirited Black community activists in a series of hilarious misadventures, stealing all the politically incorrect lawn jockeys and Aunt Jemima statues they can find in the neighbourhood. He has also head of a campaign to keep the 200 year old name of their town, Negro Creek from being erased from the map,
Set on a bare stage an impressive troupe of dancers choreographed by Vivine Scarlett are ethereal beings who serve as a counterpoint to the storyline and propel the narrative, In some cases they actually set the scene. Original music by Alexander Nunez enhances the mood and character.
The cast is headed by a masterful Maritime actor Walter Borden who shines as the dignified yet insouciant and determined family patriarch who is so busy preparing his own funeral he has no time to abandon his headstrong approach to life. Lucinda Davis is initially impressive as the heroine who pleads with her God to “talk to me, burn a bush, do something, say something.” But as the play progresses she becomes more restrained and never quite probes the depths of her despair. Quincy Amorer as Michael is quietly impressive as her bible thumping husband who tries to keep their marriage intact. Jackie Richardson, as a member of the geriatric gang, belts out an exhilarating defiant hymn when the church is desecrated which alone is worth the price of admission. Kudos to the rest of the principle players: Barbara Barnes-Hopkins, Lili Francks, and Rudy Webb.
A few of the scenes, especially near the end, stretch on too long. The script is light on theology, and real insight into Rainey’s redemption reduced to ambiguous platitudes. (“Its not that I don’t believe,” she exclaims at one point, “The problem is that I do.”) Some of the staginess needs to be edited, but that said, The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God is above all a rare sensory and soulful experience not to be missed