REVIEW: Homegrown, Review by Aurora Stewart de Peña


Written by Catherine Frid
Directed by Beatriz Pizano

Presented by The Homegrown Project

Set & Lighting Design: Trevor Schwellnus
Sound Design: Thomas Ryder Payne

Assistant Director: Navneet Rai
Featuring: Keith Barker, Lwam Ghebrehariat, Omar Hady, Shannon Perreault, Nabeel Salameh, Razi Shawah

Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace

I could chastise Don Peat and the Toronto Sun for the great injustice they paid playwright Catherine Frid by condemning her play Homegrown before it even had a chance to open, but he’s a dingbat and the Sun is a dingbat paper that only dingbats read, and ultimately he was directly responsible for the show’s immense popularity and so far sold out run. He managed to endow Frid, an emerging writer who in her own words is “not well known” with a rebellious mystique that’s made her into a sort of Angela Davis / Bart Simpson type person.

And if it was Frid’s mission to make the story of Shareef Abdelhaleem, the convicted member of the Toronto 18 on whom the play is centred, heard, well then she did, and Don Peat really helped a lot.

Because you know that Shareef’s story is sympathetically rendered, and we as North Americans with a very exciting news media industry (sinkholes) had pretty much forgotten all about the Toronto 18, who did not actually manage to explode anything on their list.

It’s important to revisit the events that lead up to the arrests and subsequent imprisonment of these men. It’s important to ask questions. It’s important to discuss amongst ourselves the actions that our government takes in war and peace. It’s important to speak up against racism when we see it. Ideally, these are privileges afforded to us as Canadians. That’s probably why Frid felt safe writing this play.  

Today during leisure reading time, I absorbed the first chapter of Darren O’Donnell’s Social Acupuncture. He writes about theatre as a forum for discussion and social change; the feelings prompted by watching something with a community of people may lead to discussion within that community. I think that as artists we all hope for audiences engaged enough to carry on the discussion. We all hope that we’re creating something relevant. We want to change what’s wrong and we hope we can miraculously do this through art.

I’m certain that Frid was hoping to facilitate discussion within her community about the subject of her play. Her attention to detail is meticulous; she writes with the precision of a lawyer. It seems that her heart is gum-stuck on the idea of justice and accuracy.

What’s been largely ignored by those swept up in the controversy of the play’s subject matter is the play itself. Though it’s a good spot to start re-educating ourselves about the events that lead up to the conviction and sentencing of the Toronto 18, it’s more than an episode of CSI Toronto. There’s a love story that runs through the basement of this play. It gives the it and the playwright a self-awareness that deserves some credit. There is much tenderness for Abdelhaleem (played by Lwam Ghebrehariat) in Frid’s writing. He’s lonely, he’s brilliant, he loves his cats a lot. He tells Frid’s stage counterpart Cate (played by Shannon Perreault) that he’d like to marry a younger version of her. They touch hands through the bullet-proof plexi-glass that separates them. The play is as much about the relationship between playwright and prisoner as it is about the facts. In the end, Cate comes to the cold conclusion that Abdelhaleem might have known more about the terrorist plot than he’d led her to believe. The realization that she may have been duped is stinging, it’s a shock to the character, though not the audience.

If you sympathize with someone you understand them, or at least attempt to understand them. Frid’s play, now so infamously touted as a sympathetic portrayal, attempts to understand Shareef Abdelhaleem as a man rather than as a mug shot. She approached the enemy unafraid, and after all, if these men are truly our enemies, it’s best to know them.

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