Josephine double feature

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Josephine and Josie and Grace | Dynamite Lunchbox Productions | Surrey Arts Centre | October 5-8, 2022 

Tymisha Harris is a force of nature who fully embodies Josephine Baker in this double feature of biographical plays. From her larger than life dance moves right down to the smallest finger movement, Harris’s performance is precise and authentic.

In Josephine, we learn about Baker’s childhood growing up in St. Louis, running for her life during race riots and discovering her love of dance. She tells us about her many husbands, her “rainbow tribe” of 12 adopted children, her time performing nude in Paris and working as a spy — it’s a thorough overview of Baker’s life with songs, stories, and many laughs.

Not only does Harris embody Baker’s movements, she also has an excellent voice. When she sings “The Times They Are A-Changin’” there are chills all around. Another standout song is “Blue Skies” as Baker puts her own spin on the melody. During another song she manipulates a feather keeping it afloat as it rises and falls with her voice. The costumes are hugely important in bringing Baker to life and they do not miss the mark, with plenty of sequins, feathers, and an iconic banana skirt.

Harris portrays Baker as unfailingly dedicated to her art, but not so committed to her romantic partners. Late in her life she returns home to the United States and becomes politically engaged, speaking at civil rights rallies and protesting her treatment at New York’s Stork Club — where she first meets Princess Grace Kelly. It’s not until Josie and Grace that we learn more about this unlikely pair.

While there is some overlap between the two plays, Josie and Grace shows Baker’s life from a new perspective focusing on her relationship with Kelly and their kindred friendship. Rachel Comeau’s Kelly is assured and confident, giving us a new perspective of Baker as lonely and struggling financially later in life. Kelly ends up working as Baker’s producer until she becomes princess of Monaco, and they lose touch for many years.

When Baker has no one else to turn to, Kelly invites her to live with her in Monaco. Baker never agreed with Kelly’s decision to get married and give up her acting career, something she never would have done for any of her husbands. Baker’s artistic career was always her top priority, and she passed away peacefully in her sleep after giving the performance of a lifetime and receiving a fifteen-minute standing ovation. Harris likewise received a well-deserved standing ovation for her portrayal of Baker.  

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