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.