All of Him, a one woman show written and performed by Tanya Pillay at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace as part of the 2010 Summerworks Festival, is like show and tell with a powerfully emotional sucker punch.
This piece is reminiscent of Show and Tell because there is no fourth wall. Pillay speaks directly to the audience, and not from within the theatrical breaking of the fourth wall convention, but from the onset, All of Him is a discussion between the performer and the audience and the audience’s curiosity, their willingness to engage with Pillay and the story she is telling, and the perspectives and opinions of everyone in the room dictate the direction of the “show.”
The subject that Pillay speaks about is her father, a colourful character from South Africa who loved Gone With the Wind, made constant terrible jokes, who said things like, “when it is raining and the sun is shining a monkey and a baboon are getting married,” who taught his young daughter medical terms and obscure Latin phrases and told her that everything he had was hers. She then tells us about the “Australian incident,” the moment that, as a teenager, her relationship with her father changed completely and irrevocably when her mother told her that her nieces in Australia, Tanya’s cousins, were accusing their father of “interfering” with them when they were young teenagers.
There’s the sucker punch. From then, Pillay cracks her play open and allows the audience to ask her questions, to delve into the depths of this situation and all its complex emotions, the questions of guilt, of innocence, of faith, of trust, of protection and moral and ethical social responsibility. What makes this play work so well is how warm and generous Tanya Pillay is with her audience. She lures everyone into her world with such congeniality and charisma that once it is revealed why we have been assembled in this space and why we are being taken on this journey, the audience is already invested in Tanya’s story and therefore she can draw earnest reactions, inquisitive and poignant questions from an audience who may not ordinarily feel comfortable sharing its thoughts with a bunch of strangers at the theatre. At the performance I attended, the questions that were asked were both free flowing and insightful, and Pillay answered them all with a brave openness, respect, genuine reflection and, thankfully, her natural comic instinct, which keeps the piece from plunging too deep into a dark, sombre hole.
Jajube Mandiela directs the piece, allowing the fluidity to remain between Pillay and the audience, but rooting her nicely so that her every movement has a clear motivation. There is also good use of projections of family photographs, which don’t humanize the father in the sense of absolving him of what he’s done, but emphasizes the normalcy of his life. This alludes nicely to the fact that people who molest children may not show overt signs of monstrosity or oddness, and that their lives can be both contradictory and complex not always reflected in American Television Crime Dramas.
All of Him is a very interesting mixture of theatre and reality, at the show I saw Pillay was moved to actual tears onstage, which is a very different experience than watching an actor, regardless how talented, pretend to be moved to tears within the framework of a fictional world. Still, it is clear from this performance that Tanya Pillay is an exquisite performer and one who can hold her audience entirely captivated in the palm of her hand whether she is making a terrible Jaws jokes or telling a very deep, very dark and horrific secret.
All of Him plays at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson Avenue) at the following times:
August 13th 4:00 PM
August 14th 4:00 PM
August 15th 6:00 PM