Warona Setshwaelo (Photo: Jaclyn Turner)
Warona Setshwaelo fills the solo leading BTW's season
by Chris Lane
Stori Ya is a one-woman show, written by Joan M. Kivanda and directed by Millie Tresierra, that is currently being presented at MAI theatre by Black Theatre Workshop. Warona Setshwaelo stars as Maria Msondo, an East African woman whose house in Canada is being repossessed. Setshwaelo spends the play transitioning between her principal character of Maria and a collection of other characters who have helped shape Maria, for better or for worse.
Her warm welcome immediately draws the audience into her life and makes the viewer feel a part of an intimate gathering.
The play opens with Maria welcoming the audience into her home for her final dinner in her apartment. Her warm welcome immediately draws the audience into her life and makes the viewer feel a part of an intimate gathering. She then proceeds to tell her story piece by piece, jumping back and forth between her upbringing in Tanzania and her present life in Canada. Many of the anecdotes seem to be rather disjointed and roughly connected, but they all gradually begin to make more sense as sentiments from early in the play get echoed throughout the evening. Through Maria’s various stories, Setshwaelo vividly paints a picture of a woman who has struggled to find her place in her family and in her community.
“This is my house,” she repeats innumerable times during the production, and it resonates more with every repetition. Maria has suffered many losses during her life, and her house seems to represent the only thing other than her memories that is hers and hers alone, thus making the imminent repossession of her home all the more distressing.
The protagonist asserts her identity as a unique individual...
Stori Ya is in part based on Kivanda’s own experiences as an East African woman in Canada, and is especially interesting when we hear of Maria’s struggles identifying with her family and community in Africa, and objecting to the notion that by virtue of being black she must be the same as other black people from around the world. The protagonist asserts her identity as a unique individual, while the play is very effective at showing how certain memorable events in her life have shaped her identity and outlook.
Certain stories and phrases are repeated extensively throughout the play, which is effective in giving new meanings to the various stories, although some things were repeated a bit more than was necessary. The messages were poignant enough that they did not need to be repeated quite as often as they were. Nevertheless, by repeating the same anecdotes, the play remained focused, and the repetition also added to the lyrical quality of the script. Maria’s character is fleshed out in great detail and exposed by just a smattering of stories, which were strengthened by the simplicity of the production.
The highlight of this production is obviously Setshwaelo, who is captivating as she smoothly portrays a diverse group of characters, each one unique and expertly interpreted. She is particularly strong and charismatic as Maria. Her nuanced performance is a delight to watch.
Stori Ya tells a fascinating and thought-provoking story, and can be seen until December 4th at MAI theatre at 3680 Jeanne-Mance, at 8pm Wednesday to Saturday and 3:30pm on Sundays.