A young African woman’s faith is tested after a traumatic encounter with an esteemed religious leader in the world premiere of David Yee’s acts of faith. Directed by Nina Lee Aquino, this one-woman play opens Factory Theatre’s digital 20/21 season. Performed by Natasha Mumba, each performance is streamed live to registered viewers.
Faith, an adolescent in a rural African community, just beginning to process her own sexual awakening, is violated by her church’s newly appointed priest. While the revelation of this transgression drives a wedge between Faith and her deeply devout mother, the mounting tension leads her to Toronto and propels her on a journey of self-actualization.
Yee’s script maneuvers through some well-worn tropes about religious faith and our human capacity for evil. The characters are, for the most part, compelling enough to transcend any of the cliches they embody, though the predatory “Father Cody” lacks nuance. Our understanding of him could have been deeper and the story a touch more challenging if we were shown the reasons for his venerated status in the community, something more probing than his blond hair and Hollywood tan.
The story pivots around Faith—the person and the phenomenon—as she discovers and utilizes her powers. There is a clever play here on genuine versus false prophets and magic tricks masquerading as miracles. Faith explores her own capacity for deception and eventually finds herself embodying the miraculous potential she was initially faking. With a firm grip, Mumba carries us to some intense places, full of potent emotion, without succumbing to overt hysterics.
The finale is quite a spectacle—a thrilling showdown that is at once grotesque and cathartic. Though, for me, it didn’t have quite the emotional punch as a much earlier moment: when her mother finally sees the truth and, in solidarity with her daughter, engages in some deception of her own.
Joanna Yu’s forced-perspective set is simple yet the evokes a potent sense of monastic life—tall arched windows, high slanting walls that pull you forcefully into Faith’s world. Michelle Ramsay’s lighting opens with warm naturalism, but gradually begins to pop with colour and theatricality.
Though much of the stream is from a single, static camera that faces the set and Mumba head on, Aquino incorporates a few sparing cinematic flourishes. The quick cuts to a different camera angle felt jarring, but the single-camera push-ins are visually dynamic and create a sense of intimacy with Mumba that I greatly appreciated.
It is exhilarating to know that Mumba is performing live, but there is a chilly absence in this digital presentation. Without a live audience to inhabit the physical space with her, an eerie hollowness creeps in at the edges of Mumba’s mic’d voice, making me vaguely aware of the empty theatre that surrounds her. Her hold on us is secure, but I miss that audience-performer feedback loop essential to theatre.
The financial and emotional need to continue artistic engagement means that we will see more of these digital hybrids. acts of faith is a gripping story and an exceptionally well-executed venture into this necessary new format.