top of page

'Tyson's Song' by Peter N. Bailey

Produced by Pleiades Theatre and now onstage at Factory Theatre

Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann. Foreground: Kyle Brown Background: Jamar Adams-Thompson

Guest reviewer Peter Mazzucco

"An important story about men’s mental health smartly directed with sensitivity and precision.”

As May is Mental Health Awareness Month, Peter N. Bailey’s “Tyson’s Song’ examines the dominant thoughts surrounding Black masculinity and mental health.

Bryan (Jamar Adams-Thompson) and Tyson (Kyle Brown) are two best friends out on their last boys’ night together. When the evening goes awry, the two Black men are compelled to examine their pasts and the genuine bonds of their friendship.

Peter N. Bailey has penned a powerful play that achieves his goal of establishing the need for a positive dialogue and new conversation around mental health for Black men that could potentially provide “the necessary love and care needed for them to heal and flourish.” “Tyson’s Song” also pays homage to Toronto.

This thought-provoking piece opens with the two men running on the stage chasing a Toronto Transit Commission bus that has just hurriedly pulled out of a stop on its route. Friends since childhood, Bryan and Tyson traverse the city to different parties to celebrate Bryan’s last day in Toronto before he, his wife, and their young daughter move to Vancouver. As they wait for another bus, they begin to discuss topics they have not addressed for many years, if ever.

One of Bailey's play's foremost and fundamental themes is mental health. Tyson has a history of incarceration resulting from and consequently affecting his mental health. In his discussion with Bryan regarding this period in his life, Tyson asks Bryan, “How come you never visited me?” Tyson’s empathy has created a view of himself and his world that comes across as antipathy when it is self-loathing. The life-long antagonism he has developed toward himself bares itself when he tells Bryan, “Everyone I love leaves me and takes their love with them.” He mentions to Bryan that he, as well, has his own plan to leave.

Another principal theme is the question of what it means to be a man, specifically a Black man. Bryan believes being a man revolves around having a family and a steady job. He chastises Tyson for being unable to maintain a steady job or a relationship since his release from the detention centre. At the onset of the play, Bryan seems like the jovial, easygoing one, and Tyson appears to be brooding and serious. We see Bryan dancing on the bench at the bus stop, talking about the party they just attended.

Tyson is not impressed with Bryan’s behaviour at the party because he believes it is inappropriate for a married man to carry on like that. He asks Bryan if he would like it if his wife behaved that way at a party. It seems odd to have Tyson empathize with Nathalie, Bryan’s wife, when we discover Tyson believes that she does not like him. Bryan explains to Tyson that he needed this one night because his life has become one of “daycare and diapers.” He believes Tyson needs a real plan for his future. At one point, Bryan tells Tyson to “Man up.” We discover Bryan’s idea of being a man comes from his father’s notion of being a man, a cycle that Bryan is trying to break.

Visually, Anahita Dehbonehie's design is sparse yet effective on the Studio Theatre stage, which is ideal for a vision of a crowded, impersonal metropolis that can be inaccessible or insular. A bench positioned at stage left provides the two men with a place to sit and talk while they wait for another bus. The placement of the bench becomes vitally important. It was a substitute for a dancehall stage. Another time it became a provisional pulpit during their Bible verse exchange.

Dave Degrow’s lighting design emphasizes the calmer moments between Tyson and Bryan by narrowing the light on the bench or the bus stop to draw the audience in and focus on the earnest conversation between the two men. As quickly as the lighting brings us into those intimate instants, a quick lighting change dissonantly transports us back to the reality of their current situation. Overall, the lighting creates a sense of urban isolation at night. The combination of the lighting, stage, and Stephon Smith’s sound design made the urban setting at night palpable with its bus and police car lights, the T.T.C. bus stop, and the revving engine of buses. I felt as if I was watching the drama unfold from an apartment building across the street.

Costume Designer Des’ree Gray dresses both actors stylishly. Tyson wears a denim jacket with many pockets, one of which holds a revelation. Bryan wears fashionable pants and a checkered shirt that contains secrets he openly reveals to Tyson during their conversations.

Director Ash Knight directs smartly with sensitivity and precision. He has challenged the two actors to find a compassionate and empathic way to express their character’s voices.

Jamar Adams-Thompson genuinely plays Bryan with charm and a carefree attitude. As the play unfolds, Bryan's complexity develops, and Jamar does a beautiful job of bringing out the many layers of his character. He even creates some arresting mannerisms that are fun and unexpected.

As Tyson, Kyle Brown makes me feel the internal conflict within his character with his parley, movements and body language. On stage, we see a caring man who feels misunderstood by society. During one of the hostile, harsh verbal and physical exchanges with Jamar as Bryan, there is a sensitivity rather than brutishness to which Kyle as Tyson performs his actions and accomplishes his intention. He portrays Tyson with poignancy and pathos, not as a common thug.

Running time: approximately 70 minutes with no intermission.

‘Tyson’s Song’ runs until May 19 in the Studio Theatre at Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street. For tickets, visit factorytheatre.ca or call the Box Office at (416) 504-9971.

PLEIADES THEATRE presents the World Premiere of

TYSON’S SONG by Peter N. Bailey
Directed by Ash Knight
Set Designer: Anahita Dehbonehie
Costume Designer: Des’ree Gray
Sound Designer: Stephon Smith
Lighting Designer: Dave Degrow
Fight Director: Siobhan Richardson
Production Manager: Shawn Henry
Stage Manager: Heather Bellingham

Performers: Jamar Adams-Thompson, Kyle Brown

Abstract Building
Black on Transparent_edited.png
bottom of page