The following review was broadcast on Friday, July 17, 2015. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 FM: The Postman plays until July 26.
The host was Phil Taylor.
Good Friday morning. It’s theatre fix time with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer…who has returned from her travels in England. What have you seen since you returned?
I saw The Postman last night. It’s part of Panamania, the cultural arm of the Pan Am Games. It’s a doozy of a piece of theatre.
What makes it a doozy of a piece of theatre?
The play is about Albert Jackson, born a slave in Milford, Delaware in 1856. He was the youngest of 9 children; two of his siblings were sold and the family never saw them again. His father died, probably of a broken heart and his mother, Ann Maria took the remaining 7 children north to Canada on the underground railroad. They found their way to St. Catharines but made their way to Toronto.
Albert was hired by the Postal Service but because of some racist co-workers was not allowed to do the job. The bigots would neither train nor work with Albert. He was relegated to sweeping the floor.
Not all characters were bigots and many friends gave him comfort, respect and caring. Finally Sir John A. MacDonald, the Prime Minister, got into the act…when he was promised that every black person in Toronto would vote for him, and ensured that
Albert Jackson got to do his postal duties delivering mail. Albert Jackson was Canada’s first black postman.
It’s a doozy of a piece because there are seven writers (Leah-Simone Bowen, Lisa Codrington, David Ferry, Roy Lewis, Andrew Moodie, Joseph Jomo Pierre, Sugith Varughese, ) so the co-ordination of the segments was mammoth.
There are 2 composers. (Brooke Blackburn, Saidah Baba Talibah)
A six piece band who play drums, banjo, guitar, violin, mouth organ and tuba. (Chris Blades, Matthew G. Brown, Raha Javanfar, Donovan Locke, Ngabo Nabea, Maurice Dean Wint)
13 actors (Claire Armstrong, Chris Blades, Matthew G. Brown, Layne Coleman, Karen Glave, Christo Graham, Birgilia Griffiths, Laurence Dean Ifill, Aisha Jarvis, Nicky Lawrence, Roy Lewis, Ngabo Nabea, Sugith Varughese, Maurice Dean Wint).
And it’s played outside on Brunswick Avenue, which was part of Albert Jackson’s postal route. The whole audience follows the characters and the band of musicians from porch to porch. Each address represents a place on Albert’s postal route, or it could be other locations, such as the postal delivery people’s union hall or a swish bar where back room deals are made. Or it could be a flashback of Albert’s life in Delaware.
How big an audience is it?
For mine last night I’d say about 50.
The logistics must be complicated.
I’d liken it to a well-oiled small extravaganza. We gather at a little park on Brunswick Ave. The band plays some music, blue grass (?), as we arrive. Albert Jackson, in postal uniform, handle-bar moustache and gleaming eyes arrives to tell us about his route.
As played by Laurence Dean Ifill, Albert Jackson is courtly, gracious and always takes the high road when faced with raging bigots. On cue the band moves out of the park and onto the sidewalk. We are guided by men and women in costumes of the day, 1850s – 1880s—to cross the street, or gather at various porches. We are gently urged to stay on the sidewalk and off the flowers in people’s gardens. Traffic is controlled by people with a stop sign paddle that is held up to stop cars from travelling down the street when a scene is going on. It’s all so wonderfully good natured and easy going. The singing especially is strong, full throated and full of joy and the pain of the situations.
One moment will stand out, Roy Lewis who plays several parts, beaming as he walked up the middle of the road on Brunswick singing in a powerful baritone voice. And he was followed by an equally buoyant audience.
This is not to suggest that The Postman is all sweetness and light
I would imagine that a show in which Toronto the good is seen to have bigots in the 1880s that The Postman it’s darker moments.
A middle aged (white) man behind me, audibly started when Albert was treated badly or bullied by a few of them. The man gasped, and fretted. I was tempted to turn around and say, “it’s only a play. Albert gets his job. People rallied and supported him. Times were ugly but also beautiful and warm-hearted. Lighten up!’
Albert as played beautifully by Ifill and directed with care and sensitivity by David Ferry, suggests that Albert always carried himself with dignity—that he was always trying to live up to his mother’s ideal.
How did the play come about?
Director David Ferry read about a group of people who were trying to get the city to ok naming a laneway after Albert Jackson. The laneway is close to Albert’s route. Then Ferry met with Don Shipley, the Creative Director of Panamania, and the play was commissioned about Albert Jackson. Ferry also met with 110 descendents of Jackson, all of whom gave their permission to go ahead with the idea. What a great idea—to perform the play along Albert Jackson’s postal route.
I have some quibbles, though. One is that there is no program to identify the players and band. I have extensive press information for which I’m grateful, but no actor is actually linked with any character. It doesn’t matter that some actors play many parts, I think they should be identified. And with so many writers there is a slight disjointed quality to the play with some segments being esoteric in their lyricism and other segments straightforward.
But all in all, I think The Postman is a glorious piece of theatre, and a terrific component of Panamania.
Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer.
You can read Lynn’s blog at www.slotkinletter.com
The Postman plays on Brunswick Ave. until July 26, Please consult the show’s link at.