Josephine Fringe Festival play review
By Sonam Kaloti, Arts Editor
Josephine was showcased during the Vancouver Fringe Festival this year and it had sold-out shows, probably due to the performance which is like no other. The Other Press caught the September 12 show at The Cultch, and it was incredible. The show is created by Tymisha Harris, Michael Marinaccio, and Tod Kimbro and is performed by Tymisha Harris alone.
The Other Press spoke to Rahat Saini, a recent Theatre graduate from the University of Victoria, on the topic of this Fringe favourite. “It would be hard for me to isolate what one factor makes Josephine the incredible show that it is.” Saini began, “Tymisha Harris delivers a breathtaking, nuanced performance that charmed me from the moment it began.”
Josephine tells the story of Josephine Baker, the first African American international superstar. A prominent figure of the 20th century, Josephine Baker did it all: From singing and dancing to being an undercover spy. If that isn’t enough, she was also a renown civil rights advocate. Josephine follows Baker’s life through all its woes and wonders.
Speaking of Harris, Saini said “She moves through time with so much grace, one almost doesn’t notice her incredible feat of playing Ms. Baker from her teenage years to her 60s seamlessly.”
To quote Baker’s character directly from the play, “As soon as I was on the stage—I was possessed!” This line encapsulated both Baker’s character and seemed to embody Harris playing the role just as well. Saini continued, “To portray one of the most famous performers and icons in history cannot be an easy task, but Harris is able to find Ms. Baker’s humour, wit, energy, and heart in every scene.”
The outfits were show-stoppers of their own. “In one incredible moment, she plays with the feathers that fell to the ground from her extravagant white feathered outfit, sharing her fears with the room.” Saini said. Another outfit displayed Baker topless, wearing only a skirt made of bananas. Baker began nervous and embarrassed, but as time elegantly moved forward, her character became increasingly comfortable in her own skin and owning the stage. She would own the stage of the world not long after.
Outfit changes were frequent throughout the play, but never once did they detract from the story. In fact, the changes were integrated beautifully into artistic scenes, with an example scene displaying Baker’s shadow (visible from a backlight) dancing on her changeroom curtain.
“I particularly enjoyed the interactions she was able to have with the audience.” Saini stated of the performance. “Even in her most vulnerable moments, she spoke to us, laughed with us, and made us a part of the show. We were never forgotten.”
Josephine Baker truly made the audience a part of her story. Her pain was the audience’s pain, and her happiness was felt vibrating through the theatre. Saini continued, “The writing itself was powerful, with the final scenes striking an emotional chord with the audience.”
The enormous role of cultivating the world we live in today was taken on by Josephine Baker. Peace was at the forefront of her messages, and throughout her art and political rallying. To finish, Saini said, “Ms. Baker lived in a time that was quite different from ours, but her strength is timeless. Jospehine Baker’s story is worth telling, and I am so grateful that through this production, I was able to hear it.”