Play Review: blood.claat

d'bi.young is the kind of lady that puts the rest of us to shame. The actor, playwright, musician, dub poet and mother has indeed earned her bragging rights, having done more in her 20-odd years than most accomplish in an entire lifetime. And, yet, the artist remains devastatingly modest about her accomplishments, which include bagging two of the five Doras (outstanding new play and female performance) for which her play blood.claat was nominated.

"I'm just a storyteller," she stresses, ruefully shrugging off the suggestion that she is a celebrity now in the Canadian theatre circuit. Just a storyteller? Hardly.

"Just a storyteller" could not bring an audience to teary meditation immediately after inducing uproarious, side-splitting highs. "Just a storyteller" could not channel and switch between the energies of multiple, diverse characters with the skill and strength that young manages in blood.claat, her one-woman show. "Just a storyteller" could not simultaneously capture the multifaceted, proud beauty and dark, heart-wrenching underbellies of Jamaican culture in a mere 80 minutes.

blood.claat is a one-two punch for the mind, the senses and the soul. Surrender yourself to d'bi.young (don't let alterna-spelling get you tongue-tied--it's pronounced "Debbie") and the Jamaican-born artist will not disappoint. young is a tour de force, and her dizzying performance shook me to my core and left my hairs standing in its wake.

The semi-autobiographical play centres around the life of one Mudgu Sankofa. Using dance, chant and music as aids, it tells the coming-of-age story of this sassy but coy 15-year-old--young describes her as "half-peacock, half-deer". Through her developing relationship with her own blood, Mudgu comes to terms with issues of gender, class, race, sexuality, family and self awareness.

"Why don't people want to talk about blood?" asks young. "The second you start asking the question, you uncover the shame, the feelings, the prejudices behind the issue. As an artist, I feel like it's my responsibility to provoke that dialogue."

Much of blood.claat's power derives from young's acting: she presents her characters in ways that make the audience yearn to know them. young the chameleon portrays each of them with startling depth--from their twitch-and-fiddle mannerisms to their moments of earth-shattering revelation, young's masterful and fiercely confident approach to characterization is spellbinding.

For young, the motivation to explore the textures and layers of each character stems from a passionate desire to dispel stereotypes about her native people. Jamaican folklore is used to great effect, infusing the storyline with the richness of imagination and the necessity of context so often lacking in the media. Headlines often infer that endemic violence is a natural bedfellow of the Caribbean nation, and young hopes to crush this notion by relating the island's history of colonial rule. By presenting its oft-overlooked past imperialist oppression, young offers not an excuse, but an explanation, of Jamaica's violent tendencies.

"Stereotypes arise when people are decontextualized. If you present people in a binary or one-dimensional way, you feed into the stereotype," she explains. "When you present characters with a back story and a forward story, you cut through the stereotype that idea that this senseless violence comes from nowhere."

The ever eloquent young takes her responsibility as a storyteller very seriously, using her art to give a voice to the disenfranchised and the misrepresented. "I try to not shy away from issues, but to present them in a more complex light," she asserts. "If we're going to talk about violence in Jamaica, for example, we have to talk about colonialization and its history of repression."

young encourages audiences to hold storytellers like herself responsible for the tales they weave. "Hopefully, as I develop as a storyteller, the relationship I have with my audience will become more rigorous, more complex, more firm."

I can't wait to see what she comes up with next.

What: blood.claat (*****)
When: Friday, Sept 8, and Saturday, Sept 9, at 8pm. Sunday, September 10 at 2:30pm.
Where: Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson, just north of Queen)
Cost: $20, Sunday PWYC.
For more info: www.bloodclaat.net
Psst: Go see this amazing show tonight or Saturday, and spread the word! If attendance is strong, blood.claat may get extended...and that's just super news all around.

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