Review: The Negroes Are Congregating
Natasha Adiyana Morris invites audiences to experience uncomfortable raw truths about racism and its effects through the black lens with The Negroes Are Congregating.
On arrival to see The Negroes are Congregating, it’s impossible not to notice the huge cross hanging over the stage. We are literally at church with part of the audience seated in pews in the front row. And just like at Sunday’s mass, it exudes an atmosphere that incites contemplation and active listening while calling for honesty and humility.
But the preach this time is an unusually surprising one! It’s a demand to step out in …. black faith with the conviction that positive change for all can only come from unity within the Black community. The voice of the proud Black preacher, Male 2, played by passionate Christopher Parker, is loud and clear! He guides the engaged audience-parishioners from segregation to congregation with the blessing of Black Jesus since biblical references themselves hints at the skin of the Son of God being of a darker hue. In total defiance of past slave codes, that stated that negroes were not allowed to assemble without the presence of a White person, he urges the Black community to reclaim their power through collective actions.
This first scene sets the vibe for the rest of the play. There will be no walking on eggshells. The audience is invited to take an enduring peek at what it would look like to explore conversations about anti-Black racism unapologetically. There is no escaping the discomforts that can arise! The play is a series of monologues and dialogues, vignettes and sketches, songs and spoken word, satire and parody that explore the physical and the non-physical spaces where anti-Black racism prevails.
It invites audience members, irrelevant of their skin colour, to navigate the difficult conversations around race as they are, walking them through a minefield with many hard truths, in the hope that the learning experience will remain alive as they leave the room. Throughout the play, the audience is questioned, encouraged to reflect and provoked about common stereotypes around Blackness and slapped in the face with the multiple tacit acquiescences constituting privilege. “There’s nothing sweeter than the sound of white noise. White noise occurs when an unsuspecting White person tries to undermine the intelligence of a Person of Colour only to be verbally whipped and slayed through facts and wit leaving their opponent stricken, speechless and a face flushed with blood.”
From the office to the barber, through university and even in the Black psyche, the Negroes Are Congregating denounces the ongoing effects of racism in Canada, the US and the rest of the world through the Black lens. These scarring effects manifest in the form of micro-aggressions, systemic barriers, intergenerational trauma, internalized racism, self-sabotage, and sometimes death. Through satire, the play also claps back at the political correctness that sometimes demands diversity in professional spaces only to realize it misses the point in adding value or advance the conversation if meaningless. Natasha Adiyana Morris, the brilliant playwright of the Negroes Are Congregating extrapolates an example where an organization had encouraged employees to form groups according to their racial belongingness which included an all-White member group. She imagines the conspiring conversations among the members depicted as the men in white on stage.
The play takes the liberty of changing the narratives of what has been and what could have been even when the alternative versions are gutsy or shocking like in the frightening “facing carding while driving” scene where the complicit Black cop, Male 1, played by talented Christopher Bautista is shot for not helping his assailed Black brother. This change of narrative is also personified in the character of Winnie Mandela, portrayed as the face of radical Black consciousness fighting white supremacy. She is reimagined as the President of South Africa after apartheid, endorsed by Female, played by the fierce Uche Ama.
The Negroes Are Congregating encourages black people to re-appropriate the conversations around race and reclaim the multiple faces constituting Black culture. It encourages soulful explorations of the roads less travelled, challenging the prejudices that are cultivated by the dominant race but also clashing restrictive beliefs held within the Black community itself. This particular aspect is depicted through the play by the fable of the Little Red Hen who struggled to find support among her peers, hinting at the lack of Black to Black support especially when it comes to encouraging Black-owned businesses, highlighting the importance of reclaiming power through the promotion of Black entrepreneurship.
Reclaiming power is also showing that representation matters! With this in mind, Negroes Are Congregating curated a safe space on March 5th’s for the first Black-out performance at Theatre Passe Muraille so “that Black theatre-goers could experience a show for them, by them”. A highly laudable initiative, never seen before in Canadian theatres! Identifying as Black myself and in attendance, I was awed by the diverse and colourful faces around me and the overall happiness felt by everyone on that night which aligned with the aim of the play to show what it means to be ” Black, proud and ready!”
The Negroes Are Congregating offers a refreshing perspective of what it means to be Black in today’s Canada. Engaging through its interactive format, it gives the audience a chance to participate, namely in the “How Black are you TV show scene” where three members of the audience get to be quizzed as candidates. The play also encourages the audience to feel what they feel in the moment and there were numerous mhm and uh-hu of acknowledgement in response to deep challenging scenes. The Negroes Are Congregating juxtaposes comedy and drama, urging laughter through the tears. I encourage everyone to see it as it pushes boundaries to help us all navigate that much-needed conversation around race.
Read full review HERE.
Photo of Christopher Parker shot by Sean Dean Brown.