Tarragon Theatre is currently hosting the second leg of Redbone Coonhound’s rolling world premiere. Having been commissioned and initially presented by the Arts Club Theatre in Vancouver, now it’s Toronto’s turn to experience this innovative and compelling work before it moves on to Imago Theatre in Montreal. Written by Amy Lee Lavoie and Omari Newton, and directed by Micheline Chevrier with Kwaku Okyere, Redbone Coonhound is a brilliantly fascinating look at race, sexism, and the power of words.
The writing of this play is absolutely genius; I loved the way they interjected scenes of absurd scenarios which reflected the topics of the Vancouver/Now sections of the play. It broke up the tension created by those sections to show the absurd lengths some of these arguments get to and what it would/could be like if we actually let those scenarios play out. Rapping Harriet Tubman and futuristic Black space-living overlords are my favourite examples of the amazing imaginations of Lavoie and Newton. Redbone Coonhound tackles many of the issues facing us today including racism, sexism, economic struggles, and police brutality; however I was surprised by the mention of things like the exploitation of child stars in old Hollywood. It shows how so many of these socio-political issues are intertwined, and how hard it can be sometimes to fully grasp all of those entanglements around a single word or issue.
Guiding us from section to section is this Disneyesque animation of a Redbone Coonhound animated by Dezmond Arnkvarn; it runs through time and space on a background of words and images from the prior section, again reminding us of the power of those words (whether we know the meaning or not). This was an ingenious way to let the audience know that we were shifting gears while also summarizing and allowing us to process the vignette we just witnessed.
The cast of Redbone Coonhound is phenomenal; with each actor juggling several characters throughout the performance, it is a marvel to watch them perform. Christopher Allen and Chala Hunter play Mike and Marissa respectively, and while they also played several other characters within the vignettes, I thought they both shone brightest as their main characters. The chemistry they have is undeniable, and you can see the vulnerability that they’re showing in acting out these arguments on stage. Lucinda Davis brings the house down as Harriet Tubman; she might only be on stage for a few minutes, but those are some of the most memorable moments of the play. Jesse Dwyre killed me as both Jordan and Jamal; they both struck a chord with me as both a former English Major and as someone who is trying her best to hear and amplify the voices of the people around her. Kwesi Ameyaw was incredible especially as Gerald; he was level-headed throughout all of the arguments with Mike and Marissa, which they certainly didn’t make easy for him. Brian Dooley and Deborah Drakeford were both so hilarious in several of the roles they played, however I thought they were the most funny as the “woke” Mom and Dad.
I cannot stress what essential viewing this play is. It helps to show us how far we’ve come, but also how much work we have to do. Plays like that which help teach us about our past, analyze our present, and have hope for a better future need to be seen by as wide an audience as possible, in my opinion. You absolutely need to catch this play before it closes on March 5th. For more information and tickets, visit: https://www.tarragontheatre.com/plays/redbone-coonhound/
Chala Hunter and Christopher Allen in Redbone Coonhound – Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann