I saw Fatuma Adar’s one woman show She’s Not Special presented by Nightwood Theatre and Tarragon at Tarragon Theatre last night. It’s an interesting blend of stand up, confessional and very loud music in a sort of rap meets rock vein. The comedy and the confessional element turn on the vagaries of growing up as a black Muslim woman in Canada who aspires to be a writer. Some of this stuff is familiar to anyone “in the arts”; the tick box nature of grant applications. “Tick, tick, tick… that’s sound of ticking the boxes… doesn’t work so well at the airport”. Some of t, like the throw away line there is much more about specific cultural experience. Also lots of jokes about “intersectionality”.
Some parts turn on conversations with her aspirational five year old self… “You were going to be a doctor”. Other bits needed a knowledge of contemporary popular culture I just don’t have so I guess from the audience reaction that these bits were very funny but they went over my head. There really were times like I felt I was on a different planet and in a sense I was.. But it was all done extremely skilfully with clever use of video and the hilarious five year old on an iPad. There was definitely an energy and a buzz where getting even the 65% or so of it that I got was really pretty entertaining.
Then there was the music. Ok, regular readers will have some idea of my musical taste and a drum kit so loud it sounded like the demolition of the Gardiner isn’t it. In fact my brain shuts down when noise levels are that high so I literally could not hear the songs. It’s not helped by the fact that the acoustic at Tarragon is loud and buzzy. Even the audience conversation before the show was a level that would cause me to leave a restaurant. Earplugs might have helped but basically I think the balance was way off. If you like or are accustomed to ear bleeding concerts you’d probably like it just fine.
There was an intro act too. Gay Anishinabe comedienne Denise McLeod performed a sort of extended land acknowledgement that was simultaneously the funniest and the most thought provoking I’ve ever heard. In between twisting the knife in the lack of substance of most such efforts she was very funny mimicking the way unprepared directors and theatre bosses stumble over “difficult” words like “Haudenosaunee”. And I learnt that east of Woodbine Treaty 13 covers the territory of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island not the ones of the Credit. It was educational too.
To sum up, She’s Not Special is a well crafted, high energy, thoughtful and often very funny show but perhaps not best suited for someone who knows more about early 19th century French opera performance practice than The Princess Diaries. Such is life.
She’s Not Special runs until the 28th.
Photo credit: Connie Tsang