by Damien Atkins
Directed by Randi Mraud
Directed by Randi Mraud
Presented by Sault Theatre Workshopat the QUONTA Drama Region Festival
This staging of Lucy brought the Festival to an end with a shattering impact. The audience sat frozen at the end, not willing to break the silence, which is a good sign that the play has struck home. (The polar opposite would be a frantic stampede for the exits the instance the lights went down!)
On one level the play is about autism. On another level it forces us to confront how we as a society and as individuals treat those who are "different" among us (a theme also explored in Albertine in Five Times which I saw in Guelph a few nights earlier).
The set was an intriguing one. Although shaped like a conventional box set, it was formed of rectangular frames. Alternating frames were filled with off-white wall panels or left empty against the black curtains surrounding the stage, a checkerboard of rectangles.
A few pieces of furniture served to establish the home environment of Vivian, an anthropologist who is seldom at home. The set was located between the ends of the proscenium and the action was mostly confined there. The general area lighting was effective. A single special spotlight down right on the semi-circular thrust provided an extra acting area for the character Lucy (more on her shortly).
That special was a bit of an irritant, as there was always a break in the action while Lucy came down to the spot or went back up -- the same when she was coming from or heading to backstage. I'd be interested to see it tried with a couple of special light positions right within the main acting area.
As a side note, none of the travelling companies have a stage space
remotely like the William Dawson Theatre's unusual combination of full
proscenium stage with a semi-circular Stratford-like thrust platform
out front. Transferring a play into this theatre is always an interesting
exercise in second-guessing how much use to make of that
large forestage space.
Michael Cuthbertson's sound design was divided into two areas. Pre-show music was effective and unremarkable. The sound effects heard by Lucy were like another performer in the play, the intensity well-graded from the early quieter stages up to the shattering uproar which overran (by intention) the final scene of Act One.
Partly as a result of the writing, and partly due to directorial choices, the company onstage also divided into two distinct groups. The division came out of the style of approaching the roles. In one group we had the two people outside the family: Julia, the research assistant, played by Wendy-Lynn Levoskin, and Morris, the therapist, played by Michael Hagerman. Both were very convincing in their physical approach to the roles, but both had a rather conventional approach to their text. More work would help to bring their spoken work into better balance with their movement and actions.
Mark Daniher as Gavin, Vivian's estranged husband, took us into the group where voice and action were in perfect harness with each other. His first scene, at the outset of the play, serves to set up the scenario, but it also establishes him as a thoughtful, caring father to Lucy. His breakdown into tears was completely natural and unforced, not appearing in the least "stagey". In his other scene, at the end, he was notable for the sheer power of voice which he brought to the argument. More on that argument a bit later.
Vivian, the anthropologist, played with fire, passion, and boundless energy by Catharina Warren, was the most disquieting figure in the play. Warren's performance, with jets of flame practically shooting out of her eyes, left me wondering if Vivian was herself autistic, obsessive-compulsive, or suffering from a more severe mental illness. I'm still not sure. Yes, the script takes her there, but Warren's thoughtful presentation of face, voice, gesture, and action, completed the work of upsetting all conventional expectations about the character.
And finally, as Lucy herself, Calista Jones totally persuaded me that she was autistic. In the text she appears as two different people: interaction with the other characters is laced with minimal, fragmentary sentences, repetitions of the words spoken by others, and a whole repertoire of grunts, barks, handslaps on the floor, rocking, spinning on her feet, humming, vocalizing, and finally screaming. Then, in the moments in that special spot, we come face to face with the interior life of Lucy. The boundless mental energy and intelligence pours out in rapid, eager monologues, the face is lit with a brilliant smile which can as suddenly dissipate into sadness or frowning, and then the eyes light again as she pursues another train of thought. A virtuoso performance of a challenging and complex character.
There are a number of "turning points" in this carefully and thoughtfully planned performance, and all except one worked beautifully. Unfortunately, the one exception came in the final climactic confrontation which built until all five performers were shouting (or screaming) at top volume. Then, instantly, Vivian folded. She stopped dead, sat down, and began to sob. What happened? I think Gavin had shouted something that got through to her, but because of the general uproar I didn't catch what it was.
The short final scene after that confrontation was gentle, clear, and shot through with questions. As staged, it left open a number of possible interpretations of what had passed during the preceding scene, and what had happened during the subsequent lapse of time. It was like the reflective coda to a massive, noisy symphony, but one which ended on an unresolved chord.
This play was powerful and disquieting in equal measures. The discussions among audience members after the play were full of interesting observations, and varying interpretations of what exactly had passed. That, to me, is as reliable a sign as any of a great theatre experience shared.