Shayna Jones in Black & Rural
Photo: Sarah Rice

Pacific Theatre
Black & Rural

When & Where March 31 – April 15, 2023, Evenings at 8pm with Saturday matinees at 2pm | Pacific Theatre, 1440 W 12th Avenue, Vancouver

Director Richard Wolfe Composer/Musician Rufus Cappadocia Choreography Amber Barton Set Design Cecilia Vadala Costume Design Cecilia Vadala Lighting Design Brad Trenaman Stage Manager Kayleigh Sandomirsky

Reviewer John Jane

The migration of black people from urban to rural communities is hardly unique, or even rare, but it is unusual. So much so, that spoken word artist and folklorist Shayna Jones believes that there is a story worth telling in this thought-provoking paradox. A few years ago, she began a personal investigation into the mindset of black people committed to living and working in the Canadian countryside. Her research culminated in what Ms. Jones called The Black and Rural Project, from which she has created the theatrical work Black and Rural.

Jones herself has enjoyed living in Kaslo in the West Kootenays British Columbia for quite a few years. She uses her one-woman show to relate her own journey in the search for personal identity and connecting to her roots. Her own story is interspersed with vignettes that showcase stories garnered from countless interviews with folks much like herself. These reflections actually form the foundation for her theatrical performance.

As Jones wanders around Pacific Theatre’s small stage in dreadlocks and bare feet she is utterly watchable. But while the artist is a natural storyteller, the performance demands focus and curiosity. Some of the dialogue is in voice-over by unknown participants and Jones occasionally breaks into song that may fit anywhere between blues and folk.

Jones’ performance is made even more compelling with the finely detailed movement choreographed by Amber Barton and Rufus Cappadocia’s atmospheric original music played solo on (mostly) cello and guitar. Director Richard Wolfe guides the production, though wisely leaves the pacing in the hands of the artist.

Cecilia Vadala’s minimalist set is appropriately symbolic. Five heavy grade sisal ropes hang from ceiling to floor with excess wound neatly on the floor – the arrangement embodies the presence of a tree that the performer uses to symbolic effect.

A young black woman’s story of Diaspora may not have universal appeal to Vancouver theatre-goers, but Shayna Jones is someone worthwhile spending an evening listening to.

© 2023 John Jane