Created and Directed by Laura Mullin and Chris Tolley
Choreographed by Nicola Pantin
Musical direction by Andrew Craig
Toronto Fringe Festival

Reviewed by Robin Breon

The Toronto Fringe Festival is in full spring and although i don’t do the TFF every year, I did want to let people know (especially anyone who might be visiting from outside of town) that it is one of our premiere theatre events of the summer and - if you are willing to be intrepid - usually filled with some rewarding surprises.

Awake is a docu-drama dealing with urban youth violence that is usually linked to gangs and drug money. It is a theme that has gotten some play on stage recently in Toronto. This past season, The Middle Place by Andrew Kushnir (a collaboration between Theatre Passe Muraille and Canadian Stage) was well received and it, like Awake, was based on a series of interviews with community members and families who had suffered the affects of gang violence.

Awake is being presented at the Walmer Baptist Church in downtown Toronto and the venue is appropriate. Many of these predominantly Black families have ties to the church and it is, in fact, in one such church that Amon Beckles attended a funeral to mourn the death of his friend, Jamal Hemmings, when he stepped outside to smoke a cigarette and was shot six times in the chest joining his friend as a victim of gun violence.

The play incorporates spoken word, hip-hop, gospel music and docu-drama to tell the stories of those affected by the violence in Jamestown, an at-risk Toronto neighborhood and the site of Beckles murder. Creators Laura Mullin and Chris Tolley note in the program that the play has been in development for three years (since 2009) which probably is a bit too long for a play of this sort. In my experience, the docu-drama form hits hardest and most effectively when the headlines are still searing in the public’s memory. Also, the story here needs more development. Although we enter the theatre and see a casket placed prominently in the centre of the church bema, we never really get to know the young man who occupies it in the same way that say, Moises Kaufman introduces us to Matthew Shepherd in The Laramie Project that enables profound sympathy to develop for the victim. To my mind, The Laramie Project remains a model of how effective this genre can be when fully developed.

Still and all, the young cast rises to the material and does their best, which is what the Fringe Festival is all about. Actors and audiences challenging one another and sometimes finding their way together through some difficult times. Amen to that.

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