The Emancipation of Ms. Lovely, playing as part of this year’s Toronto SummerWorks Festival, is a fantastic coming of age one-woman story. Through this 80-minute show, you get to know Lovely and journey with her as she explores herself as a young black woman learning to love the different curves of her own body and searches for more meaning and satisfaction out of her sexual encounters.
It’s a story that any woman, especially women of colour, can relate to — in particular when bridging cultural conservatism and expectations with personal exploration and sexual liberation. It’s a story I’m particularly thankful I had the chance to see.
The simple set is surrounded by full length mirrors giving the audience a 360 degree view of performer Ngozi Paul as Lovely. The mirrors are a wonderful choice providing the audience numerous angles to perceive Lovely’s story. They also reflect the various sides of Lovely back to herself. Joining Paul on stage is percussionist Waleed Abdulhamid and DJ L’Oqenz providing Lovely’s soundtrack. The music and Paul’s performance paired with the lighting effects by Chris Malkowski make for a wonderful show.
You see Lovely’s journey from from being a child discovering her sexuality and how it clashes with her conservative church-going grandmother. You see how her father’s affairs tainted her view of sex growing up. You relate with her when Lovely explores and learns to accept the traits of her body (her bulbous nose and apple-shaped butt). You truly relate when she discovers dating and therefore rejection, sex and therefore bad ‘don’t tell anyone about this’ sex.
Interwoven throughout Lovely’ story is the story of Sarah Baartman, or the “Hottentot Venus”, a woman known for her particularly large buttox and vulva and was placed as an “attraction” at human zoos in 19th Century Europe. Paul found herself mirroring Sarah’s story strongly and used spoken word excerpts of it as background for her movement pieces. I’m leaving myself a reminder here to seek out the recordings of Sarah’s story as it’s simply incredible.
This story struck a chord with me. Though I’m from a different cultural background as Paul, I saw myself in her story, in her need to search for her own answers when exploring sexuality and love because her cultural upbringing told her all of this was inherently wrong. Her message of embracing self love and reclaiming your own body and spirit is incredibly uplifting and powerful.
I did find that some of Paul’s line delivery came out in a rush of words and emotions and I wish she had given herself the chance to breathe so the power of her words had a chance to settle in — both for herself and the audience. It would have a much stronger impact. There were also more than a few moments in Lovely’s life that I wish Paul had spent more time exploring for a resolution before she transitioned into a movement piece followed by the next story.
But in essence The Emancipation of Ms. Lovely is something you owe yourself to see — if you’ve ever struggled with your body, with your family, or with love and sex. Just be warned — Paul doesn’t hold back from the punches here, so when she starts describing, and miming, her sexual encounters, you get the full deal.
The Emancipation of Ms. Lovely plays at Factory Studio Theatre, 125 Bathurst St.
Monday August 10th 7:15 PM
Tuesday August 11th 9:45 PM
Thursday August 13th 4:45 PM
Friday August 14th 7:15 PM
Saturday August 15th 12:15 PM
Sunday August 16th 5:15 PM
Individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Live Art Series tickets are free – $20. Tickets are available online at http://summerworks.ca, by phone at 888-328-8384, Monday – Friday 8:30am-5pm, in person at the SummerWorks Info Booth – located at SummerWorks Central Box Office – located at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St). Open August 4-16 from 10am-7pm (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee)
Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows
Audience advisory: Coarse language, mature subject matter, strong depictions of sexuality