Beyond the mesmerizing technical aspects of Ashanti’s performance, the content of “Basic Training” itself is far from ordinary.
by Émilie Charlebois
The only thing basic about Kahlil Ashanti’s “Basic Training” is the actor’s costume. The black workout outfit he wears throughout his performance truly serves as a canvas for the spectrum of personalities that cross the stage in it. This may have been a one man show, but this wizard of a performer effortlessly slips in and out of no less than 14 characters, without ever skipping a beat or running out of breath…even when he is literally running on stage and simulating drill training exercises.
Even more impressive is the fact that there was never any confusion as to who was captivating the audience’s attention.
Ashanti fully commits to every single one of the personalities he has created, no matter how little they may figure within the overall scheme of the story. Even more impressive is the fact that there was never any confusion as to who was captivating the audience’s attention. In one particularly impressive scene, Ashanti embodied himself, a sassy effeminate soldier, a crass taxi driver, a hard as nails drill sergeant and an officer with turrets. He performed with such ease in this fast paced exchange of ridiculousness that it was hard to believe there weren’t actually five diametrically different people on stage cracking us all up. If that wasn’t enough, the man even created a talent show within the play where as the host and all the contestants he busted out into amazing dance numbers that could put So You Think You Can Dance to shame.
Beyond the mesmerizing technical aspects of Ashanti’s performance, the content of “Basic Training” itself is far from ordinary. The show is listed as a comedy, but much of the content is intensely dramatic and due to its autobiographical nature it is alternately heart wrenching and extremely touching. The play begins with a look into the toxic household Kahlil grew up in where he and his mother lived at the mercy of Maurice, an abusive asshole of a father and husband. However, just before he leaves for basic training, Kahlil’s mother informs him that he is not Maurice’s biological son. And so Kahlil sets off in to another environment of strict authority and verbal abuse under the command of an over the top drill sergeant. However, this is ironically, where Kahlil is able to be himself and achieve his full potential, joining the Tops in Blue performance troupe.
The entire piece flows without any jarring interruptions or reality checks...
Ashanti successfully blends intensely poignant moments with those of hilarity by keeping his destructive past and optimistic future separate. The entire piece flows without any jarring interruptions or reality checks, because Kahlil’s reality makes up every scene, giving this piece its dramatic drive from beginning to end. The only thing I could say I disliked about this show is the fact that it made me cry, and even that was a healthy dose of catharsis! My guest and I both agreed it was a privilege to have been let in to Ashanti’s world. “Basic Training” is a wonderfully moving and fun show where Kahlil Ashanti bears his soul, and it is hard to leave unaffected.
Basic Training is part of Zoofest