“I wrote this as a piece to inspire. Inspire all men to be men and stand up for who they are and what they represent. Inspire the next generation of men to walk along their own path, to find their own passions and motivations. We all have so much potential in us and the world of late has made us dormant. Those days are over and I hope to lead the movement of the dynamic man.” Darren Anthony
Spending the better part of his 5 years writing, analyzing and executing Secrets of a Black Boy, playwright, Darren Anthony (brother to Trey Anthony of ‘Da Kink In My Hair fame) has delivered a play that is truly reshaping the way we men look at ourselves and, how others view us. For too long, there has been this particular stigma that as a man, there is no need to vocalize our deepest emotions and thoughts. And for too long, many men have all but bottled up their darkest fears and realizations. Never in the city, has there been a movement that tried to understand what is actually at play in a male’s mind, nor has there been an outlet that allowed men to freely pursue a path that is truly their own…until now. Through the awe-inspiring words, raw and at times gritty portrayal of the current state of the world we live in, and the unforgettable stories of each character…Secrets of a Black Boy delves deep into the male psyche. And what transpired from these “secrets” of the 5 male characters, was a beautifully written yet haunting piece that unearthed, the sometimes, ugly truth that we all know is there, but never had the courage to discuss.
Held at The Music Hall, as you walk through the aisles, you realize that you are in an old fashioned theater hall with draping balconies and Victorian ceilings. It evoked a mood of a once grand, and stately environment that has seen better days. But what lay ahead on the stage was what seemed to have revitalized this theatre, a modern urban refurbishment if you will. Adorned with a DJ set-up, graffiti and boxes that displayed pictures of the great civil rights leaders, it was the backdrop to the story of this production (the “rec” as we would later discover). What’s interesting to note, despite the name of this play, Secrets of a Black Boy, the audience was a diverse mix of different races, ages and cultures. People from all walks of life had come to take in this production that, although may seem to revolve around one culture or generation, really deals with the bigger picture at hand…the male psyche that any man of any culture or age could relate to. And what ensued next, was one of the most powerful vignettes in the play.
The lights are dimmed, and all of a sudden, the entire theatre breaks out in traditional African music as one of the cast members walks out in a traditional tribal loincloth, along with his spear. He erupts into his rhythmic tribal dance, head high and illustrating a proud man whose dignity is intact. A second cast member appears, this time in a colonial slave-trade uniform with shackles in his hands. As the second man approaches the proud African warrior, he places the shackles on both arms, takes away the spear that represented power and strength, and eventually strips this once proud black male’s dignity away. The now made slave, with his head down and shackles chained to both arms, is approached next by a Black Panther as Martin Luther King Jr.’s, I Have A Dream speech is being played. As the Black Panther discovers this slave, he is revolted by this sight and quickly removes the shackles, lifts the slave’s head up and finally gives him the protest sign…a symbol of the civil rights movement. But soon after, a “gang member” surfaces on the stage, sees his prey and beats this newly freed slave to the ground, all the while kicking him. The ugly truth unfolding as now a “freed people”, turns against their own. The vignette ends with the first character on the ground, defeated, while a nicely put together academic discovers him. He then picks this defeated man off the ground, hands him a book that symbolizes education, lifts his head and points his arm to the sky, while President Barrack Obama’s presidential victory speech is being played. What unfolded in front of our eyes was the history of the black male: his once proud and rich heritage being stripped away, being captured and enslaved, standing up for his rights, then the “deterioration” of a generation and finally leading to become, a now successful and educated individual. Wrought with emotion and cognizant of the brutal history, it was a raw and beautiful rendition, and perhaps, the prologue of why the 5 male characters are the way they are now.
Set against the story that the rec centre these 5 men cherish is now being torn down, their neighbourhood (Rexdale) is being gentrified and they are all meeting for one last game of dominoes. What followed for the next 2 hours was an open and honest look into the lives of the 5 different male figures: their trials, tribulations and most inner fears. Through their individual monologues, to each of the cast member’s masterful acting, the audience was transported to the inner depths of a male’s way of thinking. As each character disclosed their unique story, you couldn’t help but to cling onto each word that was uttered from the cast members. And the ability to perform with such conviction and at times, with such anger that strikes an emotional chord with the audience, is an achievement unto itself. From the moment “Sheldon” appears onstage and discloses his revolt for “another Starbucks being placed here” and his desire to change the youth today, “Biscuit’s” disturbing look into how youth today deal with gun violence and their lost childhood, to “Jake’s” heinous yet tragic circumstances with his wife, there was no holding back of the frankness of the issues. There was a certain paradox in some of the characters’ inner hypothesis’. Although politically incorrect at times, it created a strong and poignant reaction within the audience. It left you thinking. It left you re-analyzing what you thought you knew, but now unsure of. Perhaps this was precisely why Secrets of a Black Boy struck a nerve. What the characters were all going through, the disclosure of their “secrets” and their reactions to their situations were things we could all relate to. Granted that some may not have dealt directly with gun violence, or domestic violence. But, the perspectives of each character resonates throughout the lives of anyone who has ever had or been a father or brother to someone. And that was really the beauty of this play. It was men (and women) of all colours, ages and creeds coming together to really take a look at what’s going on in our communities, and within ourselves. Through it all, this was a brilliant play that took a look into the lives of men and their most personal thoughts. Secrets of a Black Boy left us rendered speechless.
As the lights dimmed in the theatre, there was a moment of silence at the end of the play. And then three simple yet powerful words were declared by each of the characters. We are here. We are here. WE. ARE. HERE.
Darren Anthony – Jerome
Samson Brown – Biscuit
Shomari Downer – Sean
Eli Goree – Jakes
Al St. Louis – Sheldon
DJ O-Nonymous – DJ
Playwright – Darren Anthony
Producer/Dramaturge – Trey Anthony
Director – Kimahli Powell
to October 3 2009 @ The Music Hall