REVIEW: Seventeen/Graceful Rebellions, Queer Acts Theatre Festival

Posted by Wayves volunteer 20/07/2013

By Hugo Dann

A new feature at Halifax Pride’s Queer Acts Theatre Festival is the Queer Youth Creations Program, taking over the breakthrough work done in previous years by DaPoPo Theatre’s “Acting Out” theatre workshop for queer youth. Playwright Aisha Zaman’s Seventeen was initially developed and presented at last year’s Queer Acts by DaPoPo’s GaRRy Williams and Richie Wilcox.

Graceful Rebellions, the aptly (and beautifully) titled solo piece by Shaista Latiff, was developed at Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times Theatre and directed by Evalyn Perry. Both plays explore themes of culture, sexuality, and gender. Taken together, they also provide one of the more culturally diverse offerings at this year’s Halifax Pride Festival.

Ms. Zaman has expanded last year's monologue into a multi character piece focusing on the struggle and growth of three young women confronting their reliance on the hetero-normative, consumerist advice delivered by teen magazines like Seventeen and Cosmo Girl.

Well cast by director/dramaturg Jennifer Overton, the youthful cast delivers uniformly strong performances of three intertwining storylines. A lot of ground is covered in Ms. Zaman’s tight script, but flashes of a fiery sense of humour and nuances of characterization allow the central characters to move beyond representative sterotypes. The dialogue about youth sexuality feels honest and frank, although I wondered if the half-hour format didn’t perhaps constrain some of the scenes from going a bit deeper.

Ms. Overton directs in a manner that will be familiar to anyone who’s sat through youth theatre presentations about “issues.” Black cubes serve as set and furniture pieces, a rack of costumes stands upstage, and the cast performs “off stage” maneuvers in full view. This is my only quibble with the production, a more stylized, less literal reading might have allowed Seventeen to fly a bit more. But that is the merest of quibbles. Ms. Zaman has shown that she is a writer of real ability and she achieves a real coup-de theatre at the climax of the action.

Shaista Latiff performs three connected monologues exploring the experiences of two young Afghan women, and the young first generation Canadian who has chosen to write about them. Ms. Latiff is an accomplished performer, and the writing is as fine as anything that I’ve seen at Queer Acts. Rich in grace, humour, sorrow, and poetry, Ms. Latiff made me see the bare mountains and the green spring of her parents’ homeland.

Evalyn Parry’s direction is deft and unobtrusive. Through the course of the play, she and Ms. Latiff have crafted two almost ritual interactions with the audience. These both personalize the experience for those of us watching, and show us the artist taking a kind of responsibility for what she is presenting; the effect is gracefully intimate and quite moving.

Ms. Zaman and Ms. Latiff have important, beautiful, witty, and graceful things to share with us. I hope Halifax audiences will avail themselves of the opportunity to listen.

Editor's Note: Seventeen/Graceful Rebellions have two more performances, Saturday, July 20 & Sunday, July 21 at 6:30 PM, Bus Stop Theatre, Gottingen St. Queer Acts Box Office information can be found here

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