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REVIEW: shaniqua in abstraction at Crow’s Theatre blends razor-sharp humour with biting cultural critique

iPhoto caption: Photo by Roya DelSol.
/By / Apr 18, 2024

You want to know the truth about what goes through the minds of Black women? Here it is! Uncensored, vulnerable, raw: the f*cking truth! 

And what is that truth? It’s truth about what Black women experience with Black men, white women, and even the slave narratives, as well as interracial relationships, just to name a few of the points addressed by shaniqua in abstraction. I mean, I don’t know if I could be so brave to disclose the truths of those experiences, as I usually reserve those intimate details for private conversations between my Black girlfriends. But that’s exactly what makes shaniqua in abstraction such a refreshing take on the topic of Black womanhood.  There’s no place to hide though, so get ready for bahia watson to take your hand and show you her world.

shaniqua in abstraction is written and performed by watson and plays until April 28 at Crow’s Theatre in association with paul watson productions and Obsidian Theatre Company. This fast-paced, 90-minute solo show blends razor-sharp humour with biting cultural critique about the intricate worlds of Black womanhood. While this play is not a monolith of Black womanhood, it does present commentary on watson’s particular experience of being a Black woman in the film and television industry. 

The character of shaniqua is very familiar to me, a first generation, mid-30s Black woman and actor from Canada navigating the acting industry, questioning the narratives of her identity as she seeks her own voice. Like watson’s other works, pomme is french for apple and MASHUP PON DI ROAD, her sketch-comedy style is punchy, energetic, and tells it like it is. 

The play opens with shaniqua at an audition where she is asked to say the line, “girl!,”  but instead she embarks on a tangent of questioning herself and the world she was raised in. A kaleidoscope of scenes ensues, laying out a slew of familiar motifs, including white fragility, the debate between light skin versus dark skin Blacks, and the notion of sisterhood. watson’s sagacious writing kept me on the edge of my seat feeling very understood as a Black woman who has asked similar questions.

watson delivers an incredible performance. Her fluidity and embodiment of shaniqua not only breaks the fourth wall with the audience, but creates space for those honest dialogues — the ones I would only have with my Black girlfriends — to sprout. Everything is left on the stage, and whether you agree with watson or not isn’t the point. 

The character of shaniqua eventually becomes representational: while, yes, she’s looking for her individual voice, she also creates space for others to be heard. The titular abstraction is the journey through which director Sabryn Rock takes the audience. Rock brings this story to life by creating whimsical and tender moments that honour the rhythm of the writing, especially in shaniqua’s final monologue. Thanks to Rock’s direction, the audience smoothly travels through the labyrinth of shaniqua jenkins, watching her change along the way, right up until the show’s conclusion.

While you may never want to take your eyes off of watson in her bright orange track pants and crop top (wardrobe by Des’ree Gray), fun video design by Laura Warren additionally helps transport the audience between worlds. Warren’s projections, characterized by bright, popping colours and geometric shapes and zigzags, support the minimalistic and practical set by Echo Zhou, making for a beautiful scenographic marriage.

This play is such a delight to watch, and I would definitely go again. I live for this quality of performance, and I’m looking forward to how this play will continue to inspire Black Canadian theatre to come.

shaniqua in abstraction runs at Crow’s Theatre until April 28. Tickets are available here.

Intermission reviews are independent and unrelated to Intermission’s partnered content. Learn more about Intermission’s partnership model here.

Aisha Lesley Bentham

Aisha Lesley Bentham

Aisha Lesley Bentham BFA, MA is an internationally trained artist-scholar, vegan chef, and wellness coach. Aisha’s research and passion examines the intersections of cooking and performance and aims to integrate notions of care, eco-somatics, and cookery from the perspective of a first-generation Black Canadian. Her new work will premiere at SummerWorks August 2023.



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