No matter where you go in the world, your ancestors will find you.
That’s one of the many themes woven through Western Canada Theatre’s production of Ubuntu (The Cape Town Project), an acclaimed production done in partnership with the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto.
The brainchild of WCT’s artistic director, Daryl Cloran, who also directs, Ubuntu was developed following a trip to Cape Town, where Cloran went to discover a new theatrical voice.
What he and a mix of Canadian and South African performers created is a tale that features traditional North American storytelling with the customs and physicality found in South African theatre.
On the surface, Ubuntu is a story about a South African man, Jaba, (Andile Nebulane) who travels to Canada in search of his long lost father.
Through a series of flashbacks, Jaba learns his father, Philani (Mbulelo Grootboom) fell in love with a Canadian woman named Sarah (Tracey Power). As Jaba unravels that relationship, the audience learns the importance of tradition and custom to South African people.
These customs can inspire and haunt, as we learn through the dual stories of Jaba and Philani. Without giving away too much, Ubuntu is a romantic and tragic love story as much as it is a tale about the importance of family and one’s connection to the past.
As a traditional narrative, Ubuntu hits the right emotional notes. We’ve seen stories like this before, but the strength of Cloran’s direction and his cast elevate the material above a typical weepy love story.
What sets Ubuntu apart are the South African elements. Theatre is a physical medium in South Africa, and Cloran infuses his play with dance and movement. Sometimes this is done in place of dialogue; other times it gives insight into the people’s custom and culture.
Most importantly, the physical elements are never boring, nor does Cloran overuse them. We get enough physicality to keep Ubuntu interesting without the movement overpowering the story.
Ubuntu does require patience from its audience. Whole sections of dialogue are not delivered in English and the play moves back and forth in time, often with little warning. Some might find this frustrating, but at least Cloran has faith in the theatregoers’ intelligence.
This is a good play, one that finds the right balance between intelligence, entertainment and the heart. Those who want something different will not be disappointed.
Ubuntu continues at the Sagebrush Theatre until April 7.