Two Wildside Festival shows
that deliver the goods
Reviews of Black Balloon: Leila and Whiteface Cabaret
By Faith Langston
Black Balloon: Leila
Sophie el Assad’s play, Black Balloon: Leila, was inspired by Theodore Carl Dreyer’s 1928 film, The Passion of Joan of Arc. Like Dreyer’s famous and ill-fated protagonist, Leila, played by Maria Marsli, is not swayed by the juror’s questions (the same ones posed to Joan of Arc 600 years ago). Silently conveying her convictions, Leila remains true to her unique identity.
Sophie el Assad makes use of her considerable talent as a designer to make the intangible seem real. Kimia Pourhazar makes a fine performance as the Vision in the Sky and Chadia Kikcondjo is ethereal and evocative as The Great Celestial Pearl. Joan of Arc, played by Meagan Schroeder, provides a wordless but crucial reminder that death can be the price of intuition and non-conformism. The jurors are faceless but present, and Baroque music provides a discordant contrast to Leila’s vulnerable state of inner turmoil.
Sophie el Assad makes use of her considerable talent as a designer to make the intangible seem real.
Confronting fear, reclaiming identity, finding authenticity is a long and demanding task. As the Vision in the Sky warns us, darkness is only the beginning of a state of wonder, a sign that the journey has commenced.
The filmic version of Whiteface Cabaret has a long lineage. A reflection of themes found in a novel by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, it became a play called Whiteface, later evolved into the YouTube production Whiteface Cabaret and, through adding elements of film and broadening its scope to include new cultural identities, has now found a well-deserved place at the Centaur’s Wildside Festival.
The work of two indigenous actors, Lady Vanessa Cardona, a Columbian refugee who faces the task of reclaiming her identity, and Todd Houseman, a Nehiho (Cree), this collaborative effort has resulted in a challenging high-spirited piece.
At the Whiteface Cabaret, Cardona, our smooth, buoyant ‘white’ M.C. tells us actors can perform the identity of the colonist or the colonizer while ‘holding the reigns.’ The skits are diverse; while some are light-hearted but bitingly satirical, others are a sober rendition of hard facts. A stereotypical Indigenous story ends with the ‘audience’s pre-recorded guffaws and scorn.
‘Excellent performances from Andy Assaf, Mike Assaf, Ben Gorodesky and Sara Meieika, highly original masks crafted by Todd Houseman, dance, and electronic music all work together to make this one of the most memorable cabarets you will ever visit.’
It is hard to overlook the irony in the portrayal of a first-generation immigrant and his son ‘united’ by their identical brand name clothing. Serious, heart-rending stories are also woven into this stage mosaic. A Jewish man tells of the social ostracism his mother and grandmother received in Russia; a schoolteacher’s lesson cleverly brings the British mistreatment of the Egyptians into focus.
Excellent performances from Andy Assaf, Mike Assaf, Ben Gorodesky and Sara Meieika, highly original masks crafted by Todd Houseman, dance, and electronic music all work together to make this one of the most memorable cabarets you will ever visit.
Cardinal doesn’t expect to come to conclusions to any questions proposed during the panel but simply wants to help everyone – including himself – figure out where to go next.
Feature image: a frame from Black Balloon: Leila, courtesy of Wildside Festival-Centaur Theatre
Read also: other articles by Faith Langston
Faith Langston is a Concordia graduate with a long standing interest in theatre. For the last ten tears she has worked as a literacy tutor with the Jamaican Association.