Ubuntu (The Cape Town Project)
Where: Citadel Theatre
When: October 11 – 22
Tickets: Purchasable online; prices start at $25 each
In a time where you can turn on the news or go on Twitter and see images of Nazis marching in Virginia or a president insulting hurricane victims, it is refreshing to see a collaboration such as Ubuntu, which celebrates and demonstrates the ways in which people can be united.
Ubuntu was created by a group of South African and Canadian actors (including the Citadel’s current Artistic Director, Daryl Cloran), and took roughly five years to make. Its creators travelled back and forth from Cape Town to Toronto trying to establish a connection between the two cultures through theatre, and they did a marvellous job. The story follows Jabba, a young South African man trying to find his father who left him when he was a child. With only a photograph and the knowledge that his father studied in Toronto, Jabba sets out for Canada with high hopes. Throughout the play, we see events unfold in the past and present that gradually work together to create connections between people who would seem to be complete strangers. Some of it comes across as very coincidental, but overall it tells its message in a very sweet and endearing way.
The play is performed on a thrust stage that consists of a few stacks of suitcases in front of a huge wall entirely made of suitcases. This wall uses the suitcases to establish three rotating doors and several compartments used for various purposes. Most of the settings are created by maneuvering a few suitcases and a trolley around, which create very rapid, seamless transitions. This tactic, together with the excellent lighting and sound design, always clearly establish a setting. On occasion, the actors work to create the environment, in a literal sense — one such scene features a library and the shelves are realized by the actors scurrying around the stage, sometimes as people taking a book, sometimes as shelves, and sometimes as a ladder. Throughout the play we are treated to a consistent and effective score that always helps establish the tone of the scene. From a technical perspective, the show is presented very effectively and visually impressive way, despite the small scale.
With regards to the acting, there were a few stumbles that distracted from the play and the character of Michael on occasion seemed to react unrealistically to a few circumstances, but aside from a few minor gripes, the acting was excellent. The characters overall feel very real and sincere and create moments that are humorous, sincere, endearing, and heart-wrenching. Tonally the play can shift quite drastically and the actors always adapt as needed to feel in place. When actors are able to create a presence that engages your empathy they certainly deserve credit, and this happens often throughout the show. Relationships are developed through sincere dialogue as well as occasionally metaphorical blocking and this is all presented clearly and effectively.
Ubuntu is a very touching tribute to how people can collaborate, and shows us the interconnectedness of people in a very thoughtful way. The show feels exciting and thoughtful, and you should definitely go see it if you can.