brendan mcmurtry-howlett, thomas olijade, jajube mandiela
Nicholas Summers, a young Canadian student who went to Ghana to “learn” and to “help” within a Liberian Refugee Camp, has financed his own abduction. This is the beginning of SIA, a fascinating new play by Matthew MacKenzie, which won the 2010 Alberta Playwriting Competition, and is being produced as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival.
Derived from interviews that MacKenzie conducted during two trips to the Buduburam Liberian Refugee Camp outside the Ghanaian capitol of Accra in 2004 and 2007, SIA is a story about how far human beings are willing to descend into the depths of atrocity and carnage in an attempt to protect the people that they love and to defend the freedom of their country.
Matthew MacKenzie has written a beautiful script which simultaneously tells the story of a boy and his younger sister growing up in Liberia thirsting for knowledge, idealistic for their country’s future and fiercely proud to be Liberian and the abduction years later of a Canadian boy in attempt to protect a witness from testifying against those who raped and mutilated her during a Civil War. All three characters root themselves firmly in the heart and are filled with contradiction, passion and a pursuit for justice. As the ideals of all three continue to intersect one another and challenge and betray each other to the point of putting each other’s lives in jeopardy, MacKenzie encourages us to confront the intricately woven and horrifically tangled political labyrinth that exists amongst many of Africa’s countries and that clouds menacingly over the relationship between the Western and Developing Worlds, regardless of how noble an individual’s intentions may be.
Brendan McMurtry-Howlett gives a performance that evokes immediate empathy as Nicholas Summers, a frantic boy fighting to survive who knows that his condition is that he is white, and therefore, he doesn’t truly understand anything except for the fact that everything is different in Africa, even asthma. Thomas Olajide gives two remarkably strong performances as Abraham, a fiercely protective older brother brimming with love and inconspicuous pride, and a dark, desperate, militant crusader seeking revenge and his own vision of justice. It is Jajube Mandiela, as the young, stubborn sister, Sia, who shines brightest in this play. She infuses Sia with a beautiful bright light that pours forth as she practices giving speeches in front of an audience of representatives from the United Nations, and learns her own history, and the history of civilization with zest and animated innocence. As the Civil War rumbles closer and closer to her beloved Liberia, it is for Sia that our hearts break, as Mandiela throws every ounce of passion into the little girl’s adamant cries that she must salvage all her books from the house, and that she will not abandon her country or her brother without a fight.
Philip McKee directs SIA with expert professionalism and clarity. The scenes transition with complete smoothness into one another and McKee shows fantastic pacing as the tension continues to build toward a truly nerve-racking climatic scene. All the choices in SIA are incredibly strong and all the artists commit with every fibre of their being to every moment of the play and thus the play soars.
The Fringe Festival is an ideal environment for plays to be placed in front of their first audiences as a vital step in the shaping and development of the piece. Yet, it can also be ideal for well-polished plays like SIA to catch the eye of local producers and theatre impresarios. This is one play that needs to be remounted once the Festival is over because it is simply exceptional.
SIA plays at St. Vladimir’s Theatre (620 Spadina Avenue) Saturday, July 10 at 3:30 PM. all tickets $10 at the door or book in advance by calling the fringe hotline at 416.966.1062 or go online at http://www.fringetoronto.com/.