Category: the production (page 1 of 2)

Broadcast text review: THE POSTMAN

by LYNN on JULY 19, 2015 in THE PASSIONATE PLAYGOER

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.

(PHIL)
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?

(LYNN)
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.

(PHIL)
What makes it a doozy of a piece of theatre?

(LYNN)
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.

(PHIL)
How big an audience is it?

(LYNN)
For mine last night I’d say about 50.

(PHIL)
The logistics must be complicated.

(LYNN)
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

(PHIL)
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.

(LYNN)
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.

(PHIL)
How did the play come about?

(LYNN)
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.

(PHIL)
Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer.

You can read Lynn’s blog at www.slotkinletter.com
twitter@ slotkinletter.

The Postman plays on Brunswick Ave. until July 26, Please consult the show’s link at.

www.info.thepostmanwalks.com

Panamania’s The Postman – A Classic

Written by  Dennis Kucherawy  |  Saturday, 18 July 2015 15:42
The Postman

David Ferry’s current, sold-out world premiere production of The Postman is an extraordinary phenomenon. It is arguably the hit of Panamania’s 35-day arts and culture festival with long lists of eager ticket buyers.  Surely, depending on the cast’s availability, it will outlive the PanAm Games by either being extended or remounted later this year.  No announcement has yet been made.

More than a sensational hit, “The Postman” is destined to be a classic, a new variation of site specific, immersive theatre reminiscent of Toronto’s 1981 breakout production of the wildly successful “Tamara.”  “The Postman” ups the ante by placing performances by some of our most talented artists literally right in your neighborhood.

Conceived and written by Albertan John Krizanc, “Tamara” received two 1982 Dora Mavor Moore Awards for outstanding new play and outstanding production in addition to Chalmers and Governor General Awards.

Set in pre-war, Fascist Italy, “Tamara” is about Tamara de Lempicka, the Polish Art Deco painter considered as “the first woman artist to be a glamour star.”  Her paintings were inspired by Picasso/Braque’s cubism, and they made her popular with Hollywood stars of the 1920s.  She painted the portraits of many duchesses, socialites and grand dukes.

The story regards her meeting with the Italian poet-playwright Gabriele d’Annunzio at his villa in Italy to which he had invited her. D’Annunzio, a veteran of World War I, went on to strongly influence the ideology of dictator Benito Mussolini.  She hopes he will commission her to paint his portrait.

“Tamara’s” original production played in Strachan House in Toronto’s Trinity-Bellwoods Parks, opening in May 1981.  Other productions included one in Los Angeles, where it ran for nine years after opening in 1984.  Another opened in New York in 1987.  International productions followed including one in Rome and others in Buenos Aires and Mexico City.

Like Krizanc’s remarkable work, “The Postman” is “an exploration of structure and space.”  Unlike the former, the latter’s exploration takes place out-of-doors, specifically within the streets of Toronto’s Annex.

“Tamara” and the immersive plays of the much vaunted UK Punchdrunk Theatre Company, could be said to be a type of “promenade theatre” in which “the staging or performance area may be set in various locations in a venue, often with no distinction between the area in which the audience sits or stands and the space for action.  The audience inhabits, not just watches, a space.”

At each of “Tamara’s” performances, audience members were divided into groups, each assigned to a character.  When I attended, I was directed to the kitchen and the beautiful young cook, who was fast at work with her pots and pans bubbling.  The room was redolent with mouth-watering smells.

But after the first scene, you were free to roam the manor, either following another character, or picking up on the major plot or a sub-plot.  It was kind of a play as “art installation.”

By comparison, although “The Postman” is also immersive and site specific, audience members gather at a pre-determined spot, say a driveway behind a house at the corner of Palmerston Ave. and Ulster St. in the Annex. That’s where the play begins with Albert Jackson, the postman’s, opening soliloquy as he welcomes everyone to Toronto, 1918.

The action then moves along the street with song and music … highlighted by a banjo and euphonium… as the cast marches and dances merrily along, followed by audience members as well as delighted neighbors nearby who want to get in on the joyful pageant.  The difference is the audience stays with the action as each scene is played out on a different porch on each Victorian house and in the gardens that were originally on Albert Jackson’s mail route in the late 19th and early 20th century.

So, you see, a Toronto company was doing immersive theatre of this nature almost a decade before the UK’s Punchdrunk theatre company, celebrated for such popular productions as “Sleep No More” (London 2003, New York 2011) and “The Drowned Man:  A Hollywood Fable” (2013).

(“Sleep” was an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” staged as a Hitchcock suspense thriller in an old Victorian school in London and a disused, faded hotel in Manhattan.   “The Drowned Man” was an adaptation of Georg Büchner’s dystopian play “Woyzeck,” set in a film studio in the 1960s.  It was performed in a shuttered postal sorting office in Paddington, London.)

Today’s young directors, most noticeably Toronto’s Dora Award-winning Mitchell Cushman, are inspired by Punchdrunk to mount their own immersive plays, most recently Sheridan College’s 2015 Dora Award-winning … “Most Popular Play”… “Brantwood.”

Produced by Michael Rubinoff, Sheridan College’s Associate Dean of the Visual and Performing Arts, “Brantwood” was co-created by Cushman and Julie Tepperman.  Presented this past April and May, it continues to be developed as part of the school’s Canadian Music Theatre Project.

The budget of the three-week production is rumored to have been $250,000. No announcements have been made for a remount. The intent was admirable, but at such a cost, if true, “Brantwood” amounted to little more than a morale building vanity project, not a wise expense of taxpayer’s money.

By comparison, the budget of “The Postman’s” budget is much less.  It received seed money from Panamania, but still David Ferry and crew had to work tirelessly to raise the funds needed.

For information regarding ticket availability, prices and show times, please visit:

About Panamania: Presented by CIBC, it is the 35-day arts and culture festival intended to enrich the Toronto 2015 PanAm/Parapan Am Games experience. More than 250 unique performances and exhibitions, both free and ticketed, will take place around Toronto from July 10th to August 15th. Panamania is programmed to showcase the diverse cultures and artistic excellence of Ontario, Canada and the Americas through music, theatre, dance, the visual arts and fashion.

By Dennis Kucherawy

The Postman’s David Ferry – A National Treasure

Written by Dennis Kucherawy | Saturday, 18 July 2015 12:58

Without question, “The Postman” is the runaway hit of the PanAm Games.  It’s thrilling, powerfully emotional, and, at times sad and disturbing, but ultimately joyful and uplifting.

song n script“The Postman” is not just a politically correct, feel-good romp celebrating Toronto the Good.  The script does not shy away from blunt, racist confrontation.  The gritty language and the resulting gravitas may upset some.

Moreover, “The Postman reminds us once again what a potent theatrical force its conceiver and director David Ferry is.  Indeed, this thespian shaman is a national treasure.  He is an original; I can’t think of anyone who comes close to his talent and accomplishments.

“The Postman” tells the story of Toronto… and likely Canada’s … first black postman, named Albert Jackson, portrayed by Laurence Dean Ifill. (He is known for his portrayal of Bronco Davis on Degrassi High.)

It begins with a welcome from Jackson, inviting you to accompany him on a walk through his history.  The story then flashes back to Delaware in the USA where we meet his angry and depressed father John, played by Maurice Dean Witt, and his mother Anna Maria (Karen Glave.)  As the story leaps forward and back in time, we learn how his brave mother took six of her children and fled slavery via the Underground Railway in hopes of freedom and a new life in Canada.

Once there, they learn they have to fight for their right to be treated with dignity, to be trusted and respected as equals, enjoying the same rights and privileges as the white people of Victorian Toronto.

Racism bars Jackson from assuming his job as a letter carrier until our first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, played broadly and comically by veteran actor/writer/director Layne Coleman, intervenes.  Running for a second term as PM, he sees the political advantage in securing the nascent black vote if he comes to Jackson’s aid and abolishes Jackson’s racist enemies.

Another theme is the struggle for women’s rights and the fight against social injustice, lucidly portrayed in a stylized scene as his mother and her daughters bitterly chant rhythmically and poetically as they mime doing the laundry.

A preacher, portrayed by the stentorian-voiced Roy Lewis, cries out against silently tolerating abuse. Ngao Nabea as Jackson’s brother lashes out against the white racism he encounters while Sugith Varughese as the politician named Earwax, comically delivers a bombastic election speech loaded with nonsensical, racist twaddle, non-sequiturs and the white noise we still hear to this day:  sound and fury signifying nothing, as the Bard would say.

A lovely sub-plot follows the friendship between Jackson and Astrid van Peet, played by Claire Armstrong (“After Miss Julie, another excellent David Ferry directed production), who empathizes with Jackon’s struggle as a social outcast.

As you can tell, Ferry has conceived, directed and cast a team of our finest established and emerging musical and theatrical talents.  The youngest in the cast is a 12-year-old child named Naomi Barriffe with poise beyond her years.  She sings beautifully, especially in her sweet solo in the finale.

One thing is certain:  the company certainly loves performing this show.

Ferry’s writing team is an accomplished and sophisticated one who, in addition to himself, consists of Lisa Codrington, Leah-Simone Bowen, Joseph Jomo Pierre, company member Roy Lewis, CBC actor and writer (“Little Mosque on the Prairie,” “Entitlement”) Sugith Varughese and Andrew “The Real McCoy” Moodie.  Each one has written a scene representing an episode in Jackson’s life.

For example, Moodie chose to write about Jackson’s first day as a way of conveying the racism Jackson experienced early on the job. His white colleagues, who deem+ him to be “an inferior Negro,” tell him he has “no right to deliver the mail.”  They refuse to explain his route to him and instead give him a broom to sweep the office.

Andrew Moodie, author of the scene, told the Toronto Star he recalled his own experience when, as a teenager, he was hired over the phone for a job at a restaurant in Ottawa. When he arrived, he was told the position was filled.

It’s fair, as Jon Kaplan of Toronto’s NOW magazine noted, to observe that some episodes “are not well tied together,” needing better segues and that shifts in style and tone are at time awkward.  But to get this far in such little time with so little resources is an achievement in itself to be championed.

Guitarist Brooke Blackburn (Soulpepper’s “The Nina Project” among others) and Saidah Baba Talibah (2015 Dora nominee – Outstanding Performance, Female for Necessary Angel/Canadian Stage’s Charles Aznavour song cycle “What Makes a Man) have composed new and exciting music.

Accompanying and, at times underscoring, the action, it’s played by a band including a euphonium and banjo.  It encourages audience members to stroll and promenade happily, most of the time, from the porches and streets that are this unique historical pageant’s stage.  Fiddle player Raha Javanfar (a 2012 recipient of the Siminovitch Protégé Prize) is terrifically enthusiastic, especially while playing her toe-tapping reels while Maurice Dean Witt’s harmonica playing alone can transport anyone through time and space.

Saidah and Brooke have written an emotional and inspiring collection of period ballads, work songs, blues and laments that complement traditional material such as gospel and spirituals.  When the cast members…especially Aisha Jarvish, Nicky Lawrence and Matthew Brown… unite their well-trained, sophisticated voices in glorious four-part harmony and their voices get louder and more powerful, it is goose-bump time!

That’s an incredible achievement in the humid, 30 degrees C. weather on the night I saw the show!

The new material is so authentic, so on-the-money that our great soul/blues/jazz singers Jackie Richardson – another national treasure – called everything about it  “Awesome!”  She said she could not tell the difference between the new and traditional songs.

“`The Postman’” is very important,” she commented, “and says what has to be said. “The music, the acting, how it was staged was great in every way.

“What I love about it is they did such a good job of what they wrote and especially the costumes and music, taking us back to what life was like back in the day.

“(`The Postman”) is important because there are so many untold stories about black Canadians and how Canada was built on the backs of black people like Albert Jackson.”

(It should be noted Saida Baba Talibah is the daughter of the great blues singer Salome Bey and the cast also features Aisha Jarvis, daughter of fabulous Dora-winning actor/singer Sterling Jarvis.  The future is in good hands!)

This has all come to pass because of David Ferry’s vision.  Indeed, he is a marvel.  I cannot think of another performing artist in North America, or elsewhere, for that matter, who has accomplished as much on stage and on screen… in so many ways… as he has internationally during his 40 plus year-long career, or who has given so much to audiences and communities everywhere.

For example, earlier this year the Newfoundland-born actor toured the world appearing in “The Last Confession,” Roger Crane’s speculative play about whether or not Pope John Paul I was murdered.  He also understudied the lead actor David Suchet, renowned for his television portrayal of Agatha Christie’s detective Hercule Poirot.

Yet, he still came back to Canada, as he always does, to share his gifts … so much knowledge, talent and experience … as an entertainer, educator, writer, mentor, advocate, lecturer, provocateur, activist and an incredibly gifted actor and director, especially with young and emerging artists.

This year alone, he received the Best Actor Toronto Theatre Critics’ Award for his searing performance in the powerful play “Blackbird,” which he also directed.

Then, he directed the intensely ruthless British play “Bull” to rave reviews.  C’mon – here’s a guy who just finished performing in some of the finest proscenium houses in the world and who then returns home to direct this play for Coal Mine theatre in a tiny performance space underneath a pizza shop on the Danforth!

For “The Postman,” Ferry added tactful diplomacy and military general strategist to his skill set.  Not only did he oversee fund-raising, he headed up talks with each householder owner to convince them to allow the cast to perform on their porches.  He persuaded the Canadian Union of Postal Workers to become supporters.

He also precisely blocked four different versions to accommodate the various locations in which it was to be performed including a sit-down, still production in a park to accommodate the physically challenged.

Intensity is a hallmark of David’s brave and courageous choices. How can one forget the 2009 Birdland Theatre production of Stephen Adly Giurgis’ serio-comic drama “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” he directed?  It featured 15 of Canada’s best actors.  It was performed in the Distillery’s District’s Fermenting Cellar to evoke the purgatory in which Christ’s betrayer is imprisoned awaiting trial as the play begins.

His production last March of Mike Barlett’s 2015 Olivier Award-winning “Bull” brought to mind Ferry’s harrowing performance imn 2010 at Buddies in Bad Times in Sarah Kane’s in-your-face play “Blasted.”  It’s a rare performer who has the vast range to perform a play dealing with an apocalyptic world of baby eating, eye gouging, rape of both sexes, then directing a play as life-affirming, joyous and uplifting as “The Postman.”

David also is fearless.  He loves to “go for it” as he showed this past February with the production of David Hare’s “Stuff Happens” he directed at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre. The plot is about events leading up to the 2003 Iraq War.  It centres on George W. Bush and his aides.  Hare presents various viewpoints including arguments pro and con for attacking Iraq.  David actually connected with David Hare, thanks to connections he made on his “The Last Confession” tour.

Contrary to previous productions, David arranged– in the spirit of agit-prop theatre– to have projected on the post-show curtain, deliberately provocative quotes from current politicians…pulled from yesterday’s headlines… using similar language as Dubya and his staff did back then.

They included words from Prime Minister Stephen Harper and various cabinet ministers including foreign affairs honchos John Baird and Peter MacKay.  “They pressed similar fear buttons as the Bush administration did,” said David with a wicked grin, his light blue eyes flashing mischievously.

Beginning with the first preview, the audience shouted heated comments as they departed.  A few heated arguments broke out in the lobby.  “The shouts indicated,” David said, “they did not approve of this kind of manipulation and fear mongering.  “One person shouted out `Harper, tell the truth about that 10 billion dollar armored tank order!’”

“It had been a long time since I have been part of a production that engaged audiences in this way. Thanks to my incredible design team and the so, very so engaged actors for this production.”

Ferry takes another shot at our Prime Minister in “The Postman.”  In the penultimate scene, when Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald orders that Albert Jackson not be discriminated against and be allowed to carry out his work, he snaps at a dim, dithering, racist, argumentative aide he calls “Harper,” and then “S.H.”

David Ferry is also a rare breed.  I cannot think of anyone anywhere who has worked as closely as he has with James Reaney, one of our four or five greatest playwrights and poets, and one of America’s best, Pulitzer Prize winner Lanford Wilson.

In New York, at Greenwich Village’s off-Broadway Circle Repertory theatre in 1981, David created the role of the ghost of World War II soldier Timmy Talley in Lanford Wilson’s “A Tale Told.” It was the second play in the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwrights’ Talley trilogy. (The play was later revised and renamed “Talley & Son.” Other plays in the series were “Talley’s Folly” that starred Judd Hirsch and “Fifth of July” that originally starred an unknown William Hurt and Jeff Daniels. It later played on Broadway with Christopher Reeve in the lead role.)

No one else has done that.  Reaney, commonly regarded as one of Canada’s three or four greatest playwrights, who published Margaret Atwood’s early poems in his modest literary magazine, “Alphabet,” became David’s beloved and respected mentor.

It’s no wonder that in the five years David worked at George Brown College as a guest director, two of his most personally exciting productions … with some of the school’s most exciting grads … were James Reaney’s “The St. Nicholas Hotel – Part Two of The Donnelly Trilogy” and, one of his favorites, Lanford Wilson’s “Balm in Gilead.”

Playwright Wilson always has been a favorite of his, even as an actor when, in the play “Burn This” at Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre, Ferry played the role of Pale, which was created by John Malkovich in the Steppenwolf Theatre production of the play.

I was reminded of that a few weeks ago when I visited Steppenwolf, one of my favorite theatres on the planet, to see the first preview of its new hit play “Grand Concourse.”

I had the pleasure of meeting Aaron Carter, its director of new play development at a talk-back following the show.  I suggested Steppenwolf should pursue a twinning agreement with David Ferry and other Toronto theatres, especially Soulpepper, to share their wealth and talent.

I told Aaron about “The Postman” and how a similar production could easily be mounted along Clybourne Avenue near Steppenwolf’s ‘hood that gave its name to the play “Clybourne Park.”  That was Bruce Norris’ 2011 Pulitzer and Olivier and 2012 Tony Award-winner. It had its Chicago premiere at Steppenwolf in 2011.  (By the way, there is no Clybourne Park.)

Had David remained in New York, there is no question he would have received the same international film stardom achieved by such Steppenwolf founders as John Malkovich, Gary Sinise, Joan Allen and Laurie Metcalfe.  He could have enjoyed the same directing acclaim there as founding member and Northwestern University professor and playwright Frank Galati.  He directed the world premiere of the musical “Ragtime” here in Toronto in 1996.

I recall meeting David when I was a student at the University of Western Ontario in London in the mid-1970s.  It was at the English department’s Drama Workshop.

Toronto’s NDWT Company, under the direction of Keith Turnbull, was rehearsing there its national tour of Professor Reaney’s now classic “The Donnelly Trilogy.”  (The Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia calls it “one of the nation’s most important dramas.”)

And, full disclosure, we’ve been friends ever since.  I can’t tell you what a privilege and pleasure it has been to see David’s work over the years and to see him develop into the incomparable artist he is today.  I try never to miss one of his productions as I know I will be thrilled, challenged, stimulated … sometimes grossed out… but never disappointed.

For me, seeing “The Postman,” from early rehearsals to a staged reading at St. Lawrence Hall and now twice at a dress rehearsal and first preview, was more than witnessing the development of a wonderful historical play about Toronto’s history.  It’s  continues to be a lovely, nostalgic walk down memory lane.

The chorus of inspired actors reading, the inventiveness, the imagery, the declarative soliloquies and, most importantly, the sense of child-like, inventive “play” that was at the heart of Reaney’s approach, all brought back so many happy memories, especially of the “Wacousta” drama workshops my classmates and I attended.

Tom, now Tomson Highway, was a student and participant who translated speeches into Cree.  Inspired by Reaney and his work… and by the plays of Michel Tremblay … Tomson went on to write the now classic “The Rez Sisters” and “Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing.”  Today, it’s so great to see Reaney’s art and legacy living on through his mentee, David Ferry.

I especially loved the parties afterwards chez Reaney with his ebullient wife, poet Colleen Thibaudeau.  Reaney was a native of Stratford, so I asked him why the Festival … then under the direction of Robin Phillips … never staged any of his plays like, perhaps, “Listen to the Wind” or “The Killdeer.”  He replied:

“If Shakespeare brought them a new play, they’d kick him in the teeth!”

“The Postman’s” writing is so evocative of Reaney’s style.  Here’s a favorite of mine written in his mythopoeic (fictional mythology) dialogue (1971) from his “Sticks and Stones.” It’s titled “Jenny Donnelly’s dawn song at the wake of her murdered mother”:

“Jenny:

I help my mother cross the thorn apple fields.

We pay you toll with our thoughts and tears.

The Man Will:

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua eis.

Jenny:

Cum sanctus tuis in aeternum, quia pius es

The Man Will:

For at dawn comes a sleigh

Jenny:

To bear you away

For awhile from us

As we mourn in the house

The last tollgate before harvest and heaven.”

Compare Reaney’s lyrical words with a favorite speech of mine from “The Postman,” Astrid’s speech, spoken by actress Claire Armstrong.  Astrid is a diabetic homeowner, a  friend of Albert’s to whom he delivers mail. It’s a note she’s left for him as she’s left for hospital:

“Dear Albert, no, my dearest Albert. I am a little worried about when I’m going to return, but return I shall. If only to see that wondrous smile of yours.

“I hope this doesn’t astonish you or shame me. The apostle Paul spoke out at Antioch against Peter and Barnabas because Paul would break bread with Gentiles. He had no fear because truth was on his side. And he is my inspiration.

“If anyone has a problem with you breaking bread with my family then they can go to the devil. I have no idea if I will see you again, but if I do, let us break bread together, and please… call me Astrid.”

Also, compare Reaney’s evocative poetry with Albert Jackson’s opening speech from “The Postman”:

“Albert Jackson. That’s me. I am a postman. This is my story…let you decide if it’s a good one.

“This is 1918, Toronto the Good. Toronto the White. Toronto the Christian Irish, Scottish, English. This is happening right here in this neighborhood: Harbored, Major, Palmerston, Brunswick, Euclid, and Borden. Good solid White names. No “Albert Jackson Lane” then, I can assure you.

“These are the rivers I crossed every day. Downtown further, Queen and Broadview, country then — city now.

“There’s a sign on a bridge today says: `This River I Step In is Not the River I Stand In.’ I like that. I think that must descend from Heraclitus.

“That sign is me. This is my journey; this is the river I stand in. The porches I mount every day as I deliver the mail are my pulpits. My messages of hope, expectation, sadness, distress, love, and commerce are my Gospel. I am the messenger that connects the Stations of the Cross for everyone in my parish… the parish of the daily post. Come with me. Watch your steps.”

The Don River to which Jackson mythopoeically refers is a river of memory, unlike the river Lethe, a river of forgetfulness that is one of the five rivers of Hades in Greek mythology.

Albert Jackson is our benevolent Charon, unlike the mythological one that ferries the souls of the dead across the river Styx, to spend eternity mournfully, oblivious to the past.

Albert Jackson gently asks us to look how far we’ve come, to understand how we got to where we are today.

And the words of the beautifully sung finale that follows could apply just as easily to David Ferry as they do to Albert Jackson as David again takes us along on his wondrous, skilful, and magical walks that continue to inspire our hearts and imaginations.

Walk on, brother.

By Dennis Kucherawy

FINALE

Now is the time

to celebrate

All that you’ve done

Led us to be free

Now (or Here) is the place

For us to share

memories of

Your walk into time

Please let us show you

the way

Now let us sing

Today

Now is the time

for all to be free

Thank you my Friend

for all you’ve done

There will be now

a street in your name

Please let us show

you the way

Now let us sing

Today

Now is the time

for all to be free

Take us along

Your route for all to see

For information regarding ticket availability and performance date and times, please visit:

By Dennis Kucherawy

Review: The Postman (Appledore Productions/Panamania)

The Postman

PANAMANIA presents The Postman, a site-specific play about Toronto’s first Black postman

Mooney on Theatre – JULY 17, 2015 WAYNE LEUNG

History comes alive on the porches of a Toronto neighbourhood inThe Postman, a beautifully-executed site-specific play about Albert Jackson, the first African-Canadian letter carrier. It’s performed as part of PANAMANIA, the arts and culture festival presented in conjunction with the Toronto 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games.

Born a slave in Delaware, Jackson escaped to Canada as a child via the Underground Railroad and moved to Toronto where he was eventually hired by the postal service in 1882. While Blacks were ostensibly free in Canada they still faced horrendous racism and Jackson’s white co-workers protested his hiring and refused to train or work with him. It took an intervention by a vote-seeking Sir John A. MacDonald before Jackson was finally allowed to work as a letter carrier.

I work in The Annex/Harbord Village so I’ve spend a lot of time in that lively neighbourhood hopping between its charming dive bars, myriad of cheap sushi joints and colourful fro-yo shops. The neighbourhood is the setting for The Postman, a promenade performance staged on the porches of several houses along Jackson’s original delivery route.

ThePostman2I love the fact that this show focuses on the neighbourhood’s history and that it has an accessible, community feel to it; curious passersby would stop and look on and ushers would hand them flyers for the show.

The production is big for this type of show. Collaboratively written by a team of writers and composers, the cast features 17 actors and musicians and a large “front-of-house” team wrangles patrons and directs traffic.

Promenade performances tend to be fussy and unwieldy; the action stops and the audience is shuffled off to the next location and needs to settle in before the next scene. Thankfully, the transitions in The Postman are surprisingly well-executed, joyous affairs where cast members play music and sing original music by composers Saidah Baba Talibah and Brooke Blackburn as we walk. For a production of this size it all runs remarkably smoothly, kudos to director David Ferry and his team.

The show itself is a portrait sketched out in a series of songs and vignettes with a flashback structure that jumps between various times and locations in Jackson’s journey. While the structure mostly works, because of the jumps and some cast doubling choices, I sometimes had to re-focus a bit at the start of each scene to determine when the scene was taking place and who the characters were. It did take me out of the performance a bit but it wasn’t long before I caught on.

Some scenes stick out in my mind in particular. The scenes where Jackson and his family directly encounter the overt, direct, ugly racism prevalent at the time that are particularly difficult to watch. We do get some reprieve in the form of a toe-tapping, fun production number midway through the show “Folks That Put on Airs.”

I liked the fact that when Prime Minister MacDonald finally does intervene so Jackson can become a letter carrier, he’s characterized not as a white saviour but more like a shrewd politician (probably closer to reality given what we know of Sir John).

The scene near the end between Jackson and his mother before his first day on the job is also particularly poignant. When she tells him, “You don’t get to make mistakes … You’re going to have to work twice as hard (as a white man) to get the same respect,” I fought back tears; my mother had given me the same speech before my first day of school. It’s a universal truth for people of colour that really hit home for me.

That’s also why I think works like The Postman are especially important. The history of Canada’s communities of colour are still almost never included in school history curriculums and stories like Jackson’s risk getting lost in the annals of history. It’s a bonus that this particular show is also so accessible, well-executed, engaging and entertaining as well.

Details:

  • The Postman is playing from July 12 to 19, 2015.
  • Staged from selected porches on Brunswick Avenue, Major Street, and Palmerston Boulevard, with additional performances at Margaret Fairley Park. Ticket holders will receive an email on the performance day informing them of the audience meeting point for each particular show.
  • Shows run Tuesday to Friday and Sunday at 7:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00PM and 6:30PM
  • Tickets (Startinag at $13) are available online
  • The current run is sold out. For information about potential holdover performances July 21 – 26, seewww.thepostmanwalks.com.

Photos of the company by Neiland Brissenden

Review – The Postman

A little-known episode in Canadian history becomes a powerful piece of site-specific theatre

Now Toronto  |  by   July 16, 2015   3:12 PM

The Postman

THE POSTMAN conceived by David Ferry (Appledore/Panamania). Ticket holders will be emailed meeting place the day before performance. Runs to July 26, various times.

$13.  thepostmanwalks.bpt.me.  Rating: NNNN


The Postman offers the most musical stroll you’ll ever take in the Annex.

The site-specific show, which features a walking band, focuses on Albert Jackson, hired in 1882 as Toronto’s first black postman, and his family’s history in the United States and Canada. Arriving on his first day as a letter carrier, Jackson, deemed by some “the inferior Negro,” was handed a broom and told that he had no right to deliver the mail.

The production, following the work route that Jackson himself took, takes place at rotating locations on Palmerston, Major and Brunswick, the action played out on porches and sidewalks as the audience tags along with the performers.

The journey is often exciting as we learn the background of Jackson (Laurence Dean Ifill), his increasingly depressed and angry father, John (Maurice Dean Wint), brave mother, Ann Maria (Karen Glave) and various siblings, six of whom came to Canada with their mother by means of the Underground Railroad.

Jumping back and forth in time, the story reveals episodes of Jackson’s fight for his job and the back story of a family that insisted on being treated as people rather than possessions or second-class servants.

Jackson achieves his goal with the help of John A. Macdonald (Layne Coleman), who was running for his second term as prime minister and saw the advantage, in terms of getting the black vote, of backing the newly hired postman.

A number of scenes stand out, among them a running plotline in which Jackson is welcomed by white homeowner Miss Van Peet (Claire Armstrong), who understands what it’s like being treated as an outsider; a laundry scene with Jackson’s mother and her daughters, which includes a feminist and social-justice subtext; the speech of a preacher-like figure (the resonant-voiced Roy Lewis) about the cost of silently accepting abuse; an internalized monologue by Jackson’s young brother (Ngabo Nabea) in which he won’t put up with treatment by a white racist; and the barnstorming speech by a mayoral candidate named Earwax (Sugith Varughese), complete with gibberish, grammatical errors and bigotry, is accompanied by a barnyard chorus.

Under David Ferry’s direction, the company is strong dramatically and musically, the songs and instrumentals giving the evening an extra boost. In addition to traditional melodies and spirituals, new tunes by Brooke Blackburn and Saidah Baba Talibah capture moments of sincerity, satire and fun. Wint plays a mean harmonica and Raha Javanfar a captivating fiddle, and the voices of Matthew Brown and Nicky Lawrence are standouts.

At this point, though, the character of Jackson needs fleshing out. Sure, the story is about him and we learn much about his life, but he himself isn’t as well developed as some of those around him.

The script, a group effort with contributions from Leah-Simone Bowen, Lisa Codrington, Ferry, Lewis, Andrew Moodie, Joseph Jomo Pierre and Varughese, also needs work. Some of the episodes aren’t as well tied together as they might be, and shifts in style and tone are occasionally awkward.

Still, this Postman delivers the goods, most of them, in a powerful fashion.

Theatre Review: The Postman brings an all-star ensemble of 17 actors and musicians

BY EVAN ANDREW MACKAY | Wednesday, Jul. 15, 2015, 09:31 AM

The Postman is a satisfying and unique way to look at a significant piece of Canadian history

The Postman

IMAGE: NEILAND BRISSENDEN / THE POSTMAN

Albert Jackson was Canada’s first black postman. Many in 1882 Toronto were not ready to accept this appointment, but Prime Minister John A Macdonald intervened and decreed that Jackson would be allowed to do his job. When director David Ferry read about Jackson’s life in an article about the creation of Albert Jackson Lane, he knew it would make great theatre. This dramatic history is brought to life by an all-star ensemble of 17 actors and musicians, who perform the show along Jackson’s actual postal route through the Palmerston and Harbord area.

The genesis

Produced by Appledore Productions, The Postman was commissioned by PANAMANIA. Jackson and the actor portraying him, Laurence Dean Ifill (Degrassi), both grew up in Toronto, but a century apart. With the support of Jackson’s descendants, and Governor General’s Award-winning historian Karolyn Smardz-Frost, Ferry and Ifill developed the initial script. Other contributing writers include Leah-Simone Bowen, Lisa Codrington, Andrew Moodie, Joseph Jomo Pierre and cast members Roy Lewis and Sugith Varughese.

Original music is composed by Saidah Baba Talibah and Brooke Blackburn, and leading the fine musicians is violinist Raha Javanfar. The infectious music and singing would be reason enough to attend The Postman, and the same can be said of story and the history, especially the way it is presented on the porches of the magnificent century homes where Jackson himself once climbed the steps. Costumes by veteran designer Kei Yano contribute to the sense of history.

Tracing the footsteps of history

A decade before Canada became a country, a slave in Delaware named Ann Maria Jackson gave birth to Albert, her ninth child. After her two eldest had been sold away, and her husband (a free man but with no control over the fate of his children) died in sorrow, this courageous and resourceful woman escaped and brought her other seven children to Ontario by the Underground Railroad.

As the performers move from one home to the next, we are taken further back in time and shown different chapters in the family’s harrowing journey from slavery to the incomplete freedom the Jacksons knew in 19th-century Toronto.Facilitating the movement of the audience are the Youth Ambassadors of a theatre mentorship initiative called Able to Deliver, put together by Appledore and St Alban’s Boys and Girls Club. Each of the youths is mentored by a cast member.

Check the performance schedule for exact location, which varies by date. There are a couple of stationary performances held in a park, for those not up to following the cast door to door.

Take-home

The Postman is as entertaining as it is important, and it should be seen by people young and old. This is a satisfying and unique way to look at this significant piece of Canadian history. And Ferry’s instinct was right, it makes great theatre.

The Postman is playing at various locations in the area of Palmerston and Harbord, until July 26th.

Running time, approximately 70 minutes (no intermission), may vary depending on the size of the audience. It was about 90 minutes on July 14.

Evan Andrew Mackay is a Toronto playwright and humorist who writes about culture and social justice.

The Postman play debuts on Toronto porches

Actors stroll the west end streets to tell the story about Canada’s first black letter carrier.

By: Living reporter, Published on Tue Jul 14 2015

postman

A play about Canada’s first black letter carrier is set to hit the stage — or rather, the Toronto porches where he once delivered mail.

The promenade piece taking place on the verandas of Harbord Village tells the story of Albert Jackson, a runaway child slave who overcame hostility and prejudice to become the city’s — and the country’s — first black postman in 1882.

“It’s been a long journey, but we’re there,” says David Ferry, artistic director of Appledore Productions, who came up with the idea for The Postman in 2012 after reading a Toronto Star article about Jackson.

“Ann Maria Jackson and (her son) Albert Jackson are extraordinary everyday heroes that nobody knows about,” says Ferry, adding theirs is a story that “should be celebrated.”

Local residents’ groups and business improvement associations jumped on board to help the project come to fruition. They went door-to-door and explained the concept to residents: Scenes take place on various verandas, meaning the audience travels with performers from house to house. About 15 homeowners are lending their porches to the play, which runs from July 14 to July 26.

“The neighbourhood has been fantastic,” says Ferry. “People are really genuinely intrigued and helpful.”

The streets change daily, alternating between Brunswick Ave., Major St. and Palmerston Blvd., just west of Harbord Village. To accommodate those with mobility issues, there will be performances on July 18 and 26 at Margaret Fairley Park on Brunswick Ave.

In Toronto, there have been other site-specific plays, but this is believed to be the first one of this kind and size. And, says Ferry, it certainly presented challenges, such as sorting out the days for garbage collection and when parking switches from one side of the street to the other.

When the show is on, Ferry expects curious passersby will be tempted to stop and join the audience, noting, “We can’t stop people from watching.” But ticket holders will receive a bonus — they’ll be given a link to download a free app onto their mobile devices that will act as playbill and provide extra information, including historical facts.

This west-end neighbourhood is significant because it is where Jackson lived and delivered mail. His family went on to own about nine homes in this area, where an alley is named Albert Jackson Lane.

One of the Brunswick Ave. porches being used belongs to Patrick Crean, who in 2007 published Karolyn Smardz Frost’s book I’ve Got a Home in Glory Land: A Lost Tale of the Underground Railroad when he was head of Thomas Allen Publishers. Crean read about the Jackson family’s escape, which is covered in the book, and by coincidence learned that he lives in the house once owned by Jackson. (Crean was one of the early supporters of The Postman and Frost acted as the project’s historian.)

Actor Laurence Dean Ifill, best known for his role as Bronco Davis on Degrassi Junior High, plays the role of Albert Jackson and leads a cast of 17 actors and musicians. Ferry co-wrote the play with Joseph Pierre, Lisa Codrington, Andrew Moodie, Leah-Simone Bowen, Sugith Varughese and Roy Lewis. Original music is by Saidah Baba Talibah and Brooke Blackburn.

During the hour-long porch performances, the audience must stand, which shouldn’t be too cumbersome, says Ferry, likening it to a “stroll in the neighbourhood” that’s ushered along by live music. In the event of rain, the play will take place at the Randolph Academy for the Performing Arts on Bathurst St.

This production of The Postman was commissioned by the arts and culture festival Panamania. It has been optioned by Mirvish Productions and could be turned into a full-length show.

Tickets are $13. For more information visit thepostmanwalks.bpt.me. A day before the performance, audience members will receive an email telling them where to meet for the show.

 Postman

Escape to freedom

Albert Calvin Jackson was born around 1856 in Milford, Del., and was one of nine children. His father was a free man but because his mother Ann Maria Jackson was a slave he and his siblings were slaves too.

After Jackson’s two older brothers were sold, his mother rounded up her remaining children and fled north in 1858 through the Underground Railroad.

They travelled to Toronto — a journey that is mentioned in Karolyn Smardz Frost’s book I’ve Got a Home in Glory Land: A Lost Tale of the Underground Railroad.

Once here, they were helped by Thornton and Lucie Blackburn, who had themselves escaped slavery in Kentucky and in 1834 arrived in Toronto, where they established the city’s first taxi business. (Frost learned of the Jacksons while researching her book, which recounts the tale of the Blackburn family.)

The Jacksons rented rooms in St. John’s ward, a downtown neighbourhood where many newcomers lived in slum conditions. A determined Ann Maria took in laundry to make ends meet and sent her children to be educated.

On May 17, 1882, Jackson showed up for his first day as a letter carrier, but because he was black his coworkers refused to show him around, upset his rank was higher than some white colleagues.

The city’s newspapers wrote about “the obnoxious coloured man” and “the intense disgust of the existing post office staff.” For days, debate raged in the press about whether blacks and whites were equal. The city’s black community was mobilized into action and on May 30 they met with then-prime minister John A. Macdonald, who intervened on Jackson’s behalf. It was an election year and Macdonald didn’t want to upset black voters.

Two days later, Jackson was back on his mail route and worked for the post office until his death in 1918. Researcher Colin McFarquhar wrote about the controversy in a 2007 article for the journal Ontario History, but otherwise very little was known about Toronto’s first black letter carrier.

Play shares the Journey of Toronto’s First Black Postman

PAN AM GAMES FEATURE JULY 9 – 15, 2015  |  THE NA WEEKLY GLEANER | BY NEIL ARMSTRONG, Gleaner Writer

Panamania Theatre Preview: The Postman

Show looks at T.O.’s first black postman

BY  | JULY 8, 2015  | NOW Toronto

THE POSTMAN conceived by David Ferry, written by Joseph Pierre, Lisa Codrington, Andrew Moodie, Leah-Simone Bowen, Sugith Varughese, Ferry and Roy Lewis. Presented by Appledore Productions and Panamania. Ticket holders will be emailed meeting place the day before performance. Previews Sunday (July 12), opens Tuesday (July 14) and runs to July 26 (except Monday), various times. $13. thepostmanwalks.bpt.me


It wasn’t until recently that actor Laurence Dean Ifill realized that among the heroes of black Canadian history was Albert Jackson, Toronto’s first black postman.

“Our history goes far beyond Harriet Tubman, who helped bring former slaves to Canada, and Josiah Henson, another ex-slave who settled here,” says Ifill, who plays Jackson in The Postman, a site-specific play that literally traces the path of Jackson’s postal route in the Annex.

The show began a few years ago when director David Ferry and Ifill were inspired by a newspaper article about Jackson, who came to Canada as an infant in the arms of his mother. She brought six of his brothers and sisters with her, and two other sons, sold to new masters, eventually joined them.

“He was only a year old when he made the journey,” says the actor, “and I can only imagine the strength of his mother to do something like this. It was usual to hide a small child in a knapsack, but how do you stop an infant from crying? I’m sure his mother provided a foundation of spiritual strength for the whole family, a strength they had for their entire lives.”

The play is a walkabout production, the action taking place on porches along Palmerston, Major and Brunswick, with the audience following the story both on the sidewalk and from house to house.

Ferry contributed to the script but also invited others, including Joseph Pierre, Lisa Codrington, Andrew Moodie, Leah-Simone Bowen, Sugith Varughese and Roy Lewis, to write segments.

It begins in 1882, when Jackson was hired to deliver the mail. On his first day, however, he was handed a broom and told to sweep the office. There were debates about whether Jackson should be given the job, white racist voices being prominent in the “no” camp that deemed him “the objectionable African.”

“It was a transitional period in Toronto’s history, when people like black politician William Peyton Hubbard were making a name for themselves. Many people defended Jackson, including his brothers. Robert Jackson was barber to some important Torontonians. Eventually, John A. Macdonald, running for a second term, spoke up for Jackson and the matter was settled.

“Ironically, the time from when the issue was raised to its settling by Macdonald’s actions was only two days. That floors me, in an era without social media.”

Ifill, who’s probably best known for his work in the original Degrassi High, is as ardent about the show’s music as he is about its script.

“I told David from the start that I wanted to use two composers, Saidah Baba Talibah and Brooke Blackburn. There are a few older tunes in the show, including a spiritual and a minstrel number, but the bulk of the music is new. Both composers are trailblazers in their own way while coming from a strong musical lineage. Saidah’s mother is Salome Bey, and Brooke’s father is keyboard player Bobby Dean Blackburn, an important part of the Toronto R&B scene beginning in the 1960s.”

Just as strong is a cast that includes Karen Glave, Layne Coleman, Maurice Dean Wint, Claire Armstrong, Ngabo Nabea, Virgilia Griffith, Varughese and Lewis.

“This is a Rolls-Royce of a company,” Ifill says with a smile, “just the right one to present an important but largely unknown part of Canadian history.”

jonkap@nowtoronto.com

Toronto’s first black postman

Friday, 03 July 2015 11:32 | Written by Lise Hosein

The story of Albert Jackson, Toronto’s first postman, doesn’t begin in a particularly positive way. It was the late nineteenth century, our city certainly was not free of racism, and a black man applying to deliver the mail was not an idea met with open arms.

David Ferry is the Project Director and co-creator of The Postman, a new play that will trace the porches and streets of Albert Jackson’s mail route.

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Yes, he did get one – after the postmaster told Albert he was relegated to mopping floors, he contacted John A. Macdonald to make a plea for his involvement. And the community got involved as well.

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So the story of Albert Jackson is one of triumph – he stayed a postman his whole life. He died in 1918. The themes of struggle and victory began before Albert was born in Delaware to slaves – some of his siblings were sold when he was young. When his father died, his mother made her escape and took the dangerous road toward freedom – the perils of making this journey were not limited to being captured, starving to death, or losing her children. As did many others at the time, Anne Maria Jackson was able to enlist the help of the Underground Railroad, and she finally made it to Ontario, a free woman. It’s both Anne Maria’s story and Albert’s that inspired David Ferry and a team of writers and composers to create this play.

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Telling this story has become an intricate venture with seven writers and two composers. The Postman is staged along Jackson’s route – Ferry and his team have enlisted the help of many homes along the way whose porches and front steps will be taken over by the production. Most of the story will be told in 12 different spots. Music will be performed along the way by musicians that’ll recall the days of bluegrass street performers. And undoubtedly it will give the people who experience it a different perspective on the neighbourhood and a glimpse at a very different time in our city’s history. And David is positive it will also give us a sense of hope – there’s a lot to learn from the story of Albert Jackson.

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The Postman runs from July 12-26 – when you buy your tickets, you’ll be told where to meet to begin the play. Make sure you pay close attention – the route will change slightly from night to night. Details are here.

 

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