Thursday 13 April 2023
The First Stone
Review by Ruth Aman
“They’re not kids anymore. They may be small, but they’re not young anymore.”
What would you do when your children, whose innocence you have vowed to protect with your life, are left forever changed by the war ravaging your nation, village, and home?
This is the story told in Donna Michelle St. Bernard’s play, The First Stone, which immerses viewers into the heartbreaking reality of a family trying to build again in the midst of destruction.
Produced by New Harlem Productions, The First Stone, premiered on April 13, 2023, at the Great Canadian Theatre Company in downtown Ottawa. Hundreds gathered at showtime and packed the theatre, leaving almost no seats empty. With a running time of two hours and 21 action-packed acts, this play beautifully portrayed a dramatization of the realities brought by the Ugandan Civil War in 1980. This premiere is one of the largest productions brought to the Great Canadian Theatre Company. Starting from April 13, it is planned to run for two weeks closing out on April 23, 2023.
Written by three-time Governor General Literary Award-nominated playwright Donna-Michelle St.Bernard, the play is a piece created by St. Bernard after her visit to Uganda in 2005. It is included in a project known as ‘45-ology’, which is St. Bernards’s attempt at recapturing and retelling stories inspired by actual events in African nations. As of date, St Bernard has written pieces on 32 African nations including Burundi, Kenya, Mali, Ghana, and South Africa.
During its first premiere, audiences were entreated to an exceptional and vibrant performance by actors from Ottawa and beyond. The play opened with a dramatic musical piece by a collective of cast members known as the ‘chorus’. As they get into place, a spotlight shines center stage on an individual with a traditional white cloth wrapped around his body. He represents the ‘ancestors’ and begins to retell a story that has foundationally shaped the community. As the one who threw the ‘first stone’, he never expected that it would cause a cycle of devastating conflict for the generations to come. Soon after, a mother and her children approach the stage. The mother is played by the talented Dorothy A. Atabong, a Cameroonian native, who has written and directed an award-winning movie titled Sound of Tears. After being separated from their father who had gone to fight in the war, the family must adjust to the new roles that they now possess. The son, ‘Boy’ (Daniel Jelani Ellis), believes that he must now step into his father’s place as ‘the man of the house’. His sister on the other hand, who goes by the name of ‘girl’ and is played by experienced actor Nawa Nicole Simon, attempts to come to terms with her path towards adolescence by asking her mother questions about her future and motherhood. Though both young, they seem to have high hopes for their future.