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shaniqua in abstraction

Presented by Crow's Theatre in association with paul watson productions & Obsidian Theatre. Now onstage in the Studio Theatre at Crow's.

Roya DelSol

Joe Szekeres

‘A compelling, complex, and carefully nuanced experience. bahia watson becomes one of our country’s finest storytellers.”

I have always been fascinated by the titles of plays and novels. When I’m in a bookstore (how many of those are left?), I always pick up the text if the title fascinates me.

The title of bahia watson’s solo performance, ‘shaniqua in abstraction, ' immediately stands out. Its unique use of lowercase letters and the word 'abstraction' sparked my curiosity. Press material describes the one-woman show as ‘defiantly pushing back the boundaries defining Black womanhood.'

I’ve always been intrigued by watson’s use of lowercase letters in her name. Is this her signature trademark? If so, it makes me pay attention whenever I see her name listed in show credits. She’s a charismatic force on stage, as evidenced by her role as Sonya in ‘Uncle Vanya’, which she played last year at Crow’s and this year at Mirvish. I’ve seen watson’s work on stage, and she becomes a tremendous force in bringing characters to life, which is remarkable to watch as an audience member.

watson is shaniqua, an actor who has come for a casting call and (according to the press release) slips into a musing multiverse of narrative stories. The intermission-less, one-woman 90-minute sharing of perspectives ultimately leads the audience to a kaleidoscopic explosion that spins into a big black hole called shaniqua.

Sabryn Rock directs the production with controlled precision. She allows watson to leave her indelible impression as shaniqua.

The result of all this?

watson delivers a compelling, complex, and carefully nuanced performance of many varied characters. One is an enjoyable highlight which sets the titular character as a comic television show host of SISTAHOOD.
The word ‘abstraction’ caught my eye when I knew I would be at the theatre. I rarely see that word today, so I researched online like a good student to ensure I knew what it meant.

Collins defines it:

“Abstraction: the act of taking away or separating; withdrawal.”

A lot is going on here that challenges me, and that’s what good theatre is supposed to do.

It challenges audiences to think.

And ‘shaniqua’ does just that.

For one, as a male, I greatly appreciate women's uniqueness. But can only women honestly know what makes them unique compared to men? I haven’t made up my mind about this question yet.

As a white male, do I or can I truly understand the boundaries of defining Black womanhood to which watson defiantly pushes back? I haven’t experienced that in my life at all. There are moments in Bahia’s characterizations where I can sense this understanding of Black womanhood could explode – loudly.

Thirdly, watson (the artist) is in the process of removing and separating herself from the white gaze of producers who are considering her for roles on the stage or in film. The varied characters she creates on stage become the performance's integral focus.

Echo Zhou (Set), Kimberly Purtell (Lighting), Thomas Ryder Payne (Sound), and Laura Warren (Video) seamlessly combine a visual look and sound that strongly accentuates watson’s varied characters. Costume Consultant Des’ree Gray has selected an orange jumpsuit and pink blazer for bahia to keep the audience’s focus on her physicality. At the same time, she strides and glides around the stage courtesy of Jaz Fairy J’s sharp choreographed movement.

And Another Thought: ‘shaniqua’ becomes a vital character study of an assertive woman who begins to understand her place. shaniqua is not just one woman. She is connected to assertive women who want to mark their place in the world even though the voice in the theatre tells her to stick to the script presented to her.

The production becomes coarse, gritty, and rough at times; however, when such personal feelings are explored with genuine truth and in the capable hands of bahia watson, then the live experience becomes worth it.

Running time: approximately 90 minutes with no interval/intermission.

‘shaniqua in abstraction’ runs until April 28 in the Studio Theatre at Crow’s Theatre, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto. Call the Box Office at (647) 341-7390 or visit crowstheatre.com for tickets.

CROW’S THEATRE, in association with paul watson productions & Obsidian Theatre, present

shaniqua in abstraction, written and performed by bahia watson

Directed by Sabryn Rock
Set Designer: Echo Zhou
Lighting Designer: Kimberly Purtell
Video Designer: Laura Warren
Choreographer: Jaz Fairy J
Stage Manager: Loralie Pollard

Abstract Building
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