Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/2/2009 (3090 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Today, the AIDS pandemic is stalking and killing Africans by the millions, but silence, stigma and outright denial are often the response.
It's a wise grandmother -- a "gogo" in the language of Malawi -- who makes that analogy in Binti's Journey, a powerful play for ages 12 and up by Toronto's Theatre Direct.
The outstanding one-hour show opened for school audiences Thursday at Manitoba Theatre for Young People and has public performances tonight and Saturday.
Adapted from the award-winning novel The Heaven Shop by Canadian Deborah Ellis and directed by Ahdri Zhina Mandiela, Binti's Journey is performed by an all-black cast of three women and one man.
Though their line deliveries are sometimes rote-sounding, the four fluidly shift among dozens of characters. They express sorrow and joy through traditional song and dance woven organically through the story.
A tree with perches for bright-coloured parrots, a few bushes, a bench and a couple of crates make for a highly effective set.
The tragic magnitude of the HIV/AIDS crisis in sub-Saharan Africa comes through in the matter-of-fact narrative of one orphaned 13-year-old girl. But teens of all backgrounds, especially those who have been displaced or had to grow up too fast, will relate to Binti's struggle.
Binti (the convincingly girlish Jajube Mandiela) starts out a smart, carefree, high-achieving city dweller who goes to a private school and feels special because she is a radio actor on a series called Gogo's Family.
When her widowed father, an in-demand coffin-maker, dies of AIDS, she and her two siblings are preyed upon by opportunistic aunts and uncles. They're robbed of their inheritance, split up, made to quit school and abused by relatives. They're shunned because AIDS has tainted them.
When Binti manages to run away to her Gogo's small village, it's no Cinderella story. She finds a tiny house packed with a makeshift family of hungry orphans. A cousin her own age has been infected with HIV and impregnated by a man who believed having sex with a virgin would cure him.
But gradually, Binti matures into greater compassion and self-reliance. Never preachy, depressing or sentimental, her coming-of-age story conveys that it is possible to lose one's home, possessions, status and loved ones, and still have something to live for.
Like Binti's brother, who paints a bird on every coffin, this wise and beautiful story refuses to let tragedy overwhelm hope.
Manitoba Theatre for Young People
4 and a half stars out of 5