I don't see how I could have chosen anyone else but Darren Anthony to be my October "Star of the Month". With the introduction of his play, Secrets of a Black Boy, Darren Anthony demonstrated to Toronto audiences that young black men have a place on Toronto stages and in the audiences of Toronto theatres.
Characters, Biscuit (Samson Brown), Jakes (Eli Goree), Jerome (Darren Anthony), Sean (Shomari Downer), and Sheldon (Al St. Louis) meet once last time in a Regent Park building scheduled for demolition. The men and boy (Biscuit) play a round of dominoes and remember the past and wonder about the future as they go their separate ways. Setting the tone of the play and breaking down the fourth wall between audience and stage is DJ O-Nonymous (sometimes a character in the play, sometimes the musical accompaniment to the scenes).
Movies and television have made caution tape a familiar and stereotypical black male image, but the majority of these iconic pictures are imports from the United States, and do not reflect Toronto-specific neighbourhoods. What Darren has done is to hold up his mirror so that we can see what is happening in our city. The caution tape that stretches across the stage of Secrets (and on the show’s poster) represents many things: the violence that young black men face, the silence that does not reach beyond their inner circles (if even then), and the de-construction of the architecturally and socially closed Regent Park Community Housing Project. Once the tape is removed from the stage at the beginning of the play, the silence is broken and the secret are spoken. Communication flows as black men's truths are shared: abuse, dating white women, dealing with loss, loving their children, coming "out", and feelings of anger at injustice.
Having a DJ O-Nonymous on stage for this urban drama is a refreshing theatrical tool that lends itself well to the interactive nature of Caribbean theatre, where audience members respond and comment on the action on stage. So feel free to react to an Old School beat and react to something the cast say, but don't confuse the concept of taking back to the stage with taking to your friend about dinner. It's call and response, not selfish chat time.
My program notes state that Darren Anthony wrote Secrets as "a piece to inspire". He may have been talking about black men sharing their feelings and being confident, but I think he has gone beyond that in mounting this play. What he has successfully achieved is inspiring a new audience to go to the theatre. The secret is out, indeed! Black Toronto audiences will no longer be satisfied in having their stories told in the same old way, nor in the same old small theatre. Kudos to director, Kimahli Powell for helming the project. (In photo, Rowan Starr and Mother. I want to see more of this when I go to the theatre.)
Darren's sister, Trey Anthony, was the first Canadian playwright to have a play ('da kink in my hair) performed at the Princess of Wales Theatre. In choosing to mount his play, Secrets of a Black Boy at the Danforth Music Hall, Darren Anthony continues to pave the way for Canadian playwrights to have their work performed on larger Canadian stages. Let's hope that Darren's triumph will lead to an exuberance rebirth in a Toronto theatre scene that is choking on its hidebound traditions.
Photo credits: all photos by donna g, except Secrets poster which is courtesy of www.secretsofablackboy.com