Ubuntu (The Cape Town Project)
At the Firehall Arts Centre until April 21
Ubuntu has a huge heart that beats to the rhythms of South Africa. At the same time, it’s as Canadian as the University of Toronto where much of the action takes place.
Theatrefront, the Toronto-based company that created Ubuntu, not only walks the walk, it crosses borders to co-produce world theatre that speaks as much to our human similarities as to our differences. The word “ubuntu” refers to the spirit of community, and the show is the result of four workshops in two countries (Canada and South Africa) over four years with more than 20 different participating artists.
In Ubuntu, Jabba (Andile Nebulane) arrives in Toronto from Cape Town on a quest to find the father that abandoned him 20 years ago. All Jabba has is an old Polaroid photo that his father Philani (Mbulelo Grootboom) sent to him along with money for his support. Also in the photo is Dr. Michael Reid (Eric Goulem), Philani’s microbiology professor.
Flash back 20 years to Philani’s arrival in Canada and his relationship with shy ornithology student Sarah (Tracey Power). But the tugs of home plus Dr. Reid’s condescending attitude to South African healing practices—which include prescribing snake bladders for strength—are hard pills for Philani to swallow.
Mystery after mystery is uncovered with the help of Dr. Reid’s rebellious daughter Libby (Stacie Steadman).
Lorenzo Savoini’s set—three walls plastered with suitcases and trunks—is interesting, functional and evocatively lit by Gerald King. Panels in the walls revolve to permit entrances and exits by the actors; suitcases, like little doors, open to reveal various objects including—and importantly—an urn.
A Western Canada Theatre/Theatrefront production, Ubuntu is artfully presented. The lovers are sweetly crafted by Power and Grootboom, and the flashbacks to Cape Town are exotic. Heart-wrenching and uplifting, Ubuntu is an inventive and sensitive presentation of immigrant experience.