Steal Away Home is a beautifully poetic story centering on Sista, a young girl attempting to come to terms with the traditions of her ancestors and her struggle to break the cycle of misogyny, abuse and abandonment at the hands of men that have plagued mothers and children for generations.
Shauntay Grant tells this story mostly through vividly lyrical monologues, evocative song and overlapping poetic voices, which help to establish a strong sense of community and give the production, brought to life by three actors, a sense of depth and continuity. She also gives the piece a great contrast, between the traditional and religious hymns and overtones offered as a means of expression and salvation by her Mother and Grandmother, Sista instead finds her voice in a far more aggressive and cleverly rhymed poetry jam. Here she attacks the stereotypes of the black male, as so often depicted and constructed in the media by people of all colors and ethnicities. Yet, it is clear that even in this, Sista is not just speaking about black men, but all men who masquerade as poets and revolutionaries and use empty rhetoric for the sole intention of getting laid.
Naomi-Joy Blackhall-Butler plays Sista with a lovely mix of strength and vulnerability. She is endearing, yet potentially also self-destructive, which makes her immediately captivating for the audience. Jessica Brown plays her mother, Mama, as restrained as Sista is forthcoming. Brown is fantastic at alluding to the layers of repressed emotion buried deep within Mama with subtly and grace, but keeping her strongly grounded in her duty, faith and propriety. Suzy Hansen shines especially bright as Grandma, giving her a truly bright and specific voice and spirit that informs the entire piece. Hansen also has a strikingly gorgeous singing voice and all three are perfection when they sing all together in harmony.
I think that this play has the potential to be expanded, or at least for the two other Sista characters (also played by Brown and Hansen) to be mined out for their own unique voices and stories rather than reinforcing Sista #1’s position so much. In the same way, I also think that Blackhall-Butler and Brown’s characters could benefit from delving even deeper into the emotions of the weightier issues in the play. I felt that their anger and their sadness often seemed to be coming from their throats, which produced a weaker effect than if they had been coming from deep within the core of their bodies.
ahdri zhina mandiela gives a great shape to the piece mirroring the layering of the voices with movement and ensuring that Brown and Hansen’s physicality between characters was clear and potent.
Often in the theatre in Halifax the demographics being reflected both onstage and off do not do at all do justice to the diversity of this city and the many different people of different cultures with disparate traditions, stories and experiences that live here. So, it is so refreshing to see a play like Steal Away Home at the Atlantic Fringe Festival because it is vitally important that our theatre community continues to diversify and to grow alongside the rest of Halifax and all of Nova Scotia. I hope to see much more of all four of these theatre artists in the very near future… perhaps even at Neptune Theatre, which I think needs to expand its Nova Scotian talent horizons most of all.