Timely, bold and honest, Secrets of a Black Boy is currently on-stage until November 20th. Produced by PLAYING with CRAYONS, with the support of Theatre Passe Muraille, as part of their 2016-17 Season Guest Company Series, Secrets of a Black Boy focuses a lens on five young black men from Toronto.
These young men have come together for one last domino game at their Regent Park community centre before its permanent closure – a devastating result of the neighbourhood’s revitalization project.
Through a series of monologues mixed with musical interludes, Secrets of a Black Boy aims to explore the underlying effects of common stereotypes faced by racialized men and peeks into some controversial issues including police brutality and injustice, mental health, domestic abuse, infidelity, interracial dating, and sexuality.
Having seen Secrets of a Black Boy during its first run in 2009, I can attest for the need for plays such as this. In its current production, the first half feels dated and in need of an update. A lot of the material comes from the original production, case in point the “wifey checklist” — it made cringe then, it still makes me cringe now. I understand the aim might be to point out some of the mysoginistic views men in this community may have.
As a Latina female, however, I’d much rather hear how they aim to change these narrow views on women than a list of characteristics a ‘good wife’ should have. Having grown up in Toronto’s St. Jamestown neighbourhood, I am sadly too familiar with this type of masculinity. I suppose I was hoping for some growth here.
The second half of Secrets of a Black Boy does make up for the first. Issues related to sexuality, absentee fathers, and domestic abuse are discussed in a more mature way. This is the update to the play that I, personally, was hoping for. The one thing I found missing was more discussion around how the men hope to make changes within themselves and their peers.
As creator and writer Darren Anthony says, “Secrets of a Black Boy is unapologetic in the stories it tells… but it goes there so audiences leave considering the range of issues and layers facing black men today.” I had hoped there would more exploration of said issues and layers throughout the performance. The monologues are needed, yet they could be punctuated by a discussion on how these men wish to address such issues and uncover the layers.
The portion of the story related to Regent Park’s revitalization project could be focused on a little more than just a setting. If this neighbourhood is so key to their personal histories, perhaps talking about it as another character in the play would also enhance the reason for choosing it as the setting in this updated version of the play.
Personal views aside, the production is still one that I would recommend. The cast works well together given the amount of dialogue involved in the play. The multimedia aspects are an interesting addition, although not needed in my opintion. DJ O-nonymous, who sets the tone and provides a rhythmic backdrop to the performance, is a nice addition to this ensemble. And of course, most of the issues addressed in the play are of vital importance given the state of current affairs.
Following select performances, a notable guest host will moderate talk back sessions with the cast and crew, providing an opportunity for traditional theatre audiences and a new generation of urban, traditionally, non-theatre goers to engage in conversation and explore themes covered within the piece.
Secrets of a Black Boy
Theatre Passe Muraille
Until November 20
Performances run Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 pm; weekend matinees at 2 pm.
Tickets are $17 – $38. A small number of PWYC tickets are available at the door for matinees.
Tickets can be purchased online or by calling (416) 504 7529.
Audience advisory: Strong language and depictions of violence.