Aug 23

“John Ware Reimagined” weaves history and fiction together

by Jenna Shummoogum · 0 comments

John Ware Reimagined wide shots-225 1John Ware Reimagined presented by the Ellipsis Tree Collective is a play written by Cheryl Foggo, that tells the story of John Ware’s life based on the history of his actual story, with some creative license. The play is part of the Black Canadian Theatre Series, the first ever Calgary theatrical season of plays written by Afri-Canadian playwrights about Black Canadian life.

The play weaves two stories together, one of Joni (Kirsten Alter), a young Afri-Canadian woman growing up in Calgary who is obsessed with the Calgary Stampede. She and her brother grow up playing make believe that they are cowboys riding the open prairie, fighting bandits. Joni feels she is split into two identities, one identity that loves cowboys and the Stampede and feels like she belongs to that culture and another that is based in the colour of her skin and the style of her hair, as a black woman born in Calgary. The other story is the life of John Ware (Orville Charles Cameron) a cowboy who was born into slavery in South Carolina. He eventually moved to Alberta and met Mildred (Janelle Cooper) and they were married. John Ware Reimagined features compelling story in the first half, detailing Joni’s struggle being different in school while still relating to Cowboy culture though she didn’t see any black cowboys in the stories she was reading and building the story of John Ware and his struggles in the late 1800s in Alberta. The narrative unravels in the second half, not building on the momentum of the first and not pulling the stories together. Joni winds up addressing John directly and this breaks the audience engagement. The conflict in the narrative is well expressed, but it falls apart a bit during the second half.

John Ware Reimagined features musical direction by Miranda Martini and Kris Demeanor which adds charm to the play. They play guitar, sing original music and provide sound design. The sound design is effective in adding another dimension to the play.

Cooper shines in this production, as her acting stands out within the narrative and her she has a beautiful voice. Alter does a good job as Joni, striking a balance between young and old. Cameron starts off just shouting his lines, but soon settles into his role. All of the cast do a good job of singing the pretty melodies in the play.

It is great that the Ellipsis Tree Collective is is putting on The Black Canadian Theatre Series, as it features stories not really told often. John Ware Reimagined has some strong singing and lovely melodies with a strong opening half, but could use some work in the second half.

John Ware Reimagined runs at Lunchbox Theatre until August 30th. More information is available online.

Photo: (from left to right) Kirsten Alter, Janelle Cooper and Orville Cameron
Credit: Kristian Jones

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