I can't say too much about this show because, frankly, I'm a little afraid.
Once again, Judith Thompson has made me feel afraid. Of what? I'm not sure. I am sure, however, that, once again, she has confused me by making me confront things I don't ordinarily encounter. Out of all her provocative works, and we all know, it's no secret, Judith Thompson writes provocative theatre, for some reason, Rare was the most provocative to me.
If you haven't heard of it yet, it's a project that Thompson worked on with a group of adults who are living with Down Syndrome. They've written the show to express their experiences. This show is part of a serious of works that Thompson has created in which she allows non-actors to tell their stories on stage. (Read about her project).
I haven't seen the other works in the series, but, this one was enough to make me question it. Thompson is walking a fine line between sharing sentimental truths and staging a theatrical drama. At what point did the show turn into a spectacle and how decent is that for the storytellers on stage?
I also wonder about the legitimacy of the my own engagement. Thompson made me question why I was even watching the piece and I, honestly don't mean that in a bad "this show is boring" way. The show wasn't boring at all. It made me question my instincts as a spectator: Would I listen to these stories if they were told by anyone else? And would I be as compassionate? It's true the piece made me consider and appreciate the lives of the storytellers but the strength of this piece, I think, is it's ability to make me confront my own guilt and fear. It's that feeling you get when you realize how fragile life can be. I felt that for the entire show.
The stories we heard were sad. Parts of the piece were endearing and funny but I question if that was because we were unfamiliar with what we were watching. The staging is minimal, with some mask work and a mixture of movement, music, all sorts of fun performance art. I feel a little strange calling this theatre or drama, however, because that turns it into a spectacle and I don't think that's what Thompson intended. I think she intended to give us a window of insight. In that regard, she's succeeded.
My first exposure to John Patrick Shanley was in 2006 when I saw "Doubt" on Broadway with Cherry Jones. The show moved me to the point of sending Shanley a shameless email thanking him for his work. From that point forward, I was a convert. I studied his other works of brilliance including "Beggar in a House of Plenty", "The Dreamer Examines his Pillow" and "Kissing Christine".
Shanley has a way of crafting dark humour, draping in metaphor and allowing it to jump off the stage and lead you to a dismal conclusion. Shanley audiences never leave the theatre unaffected.
Last night was no exception. I had the pleasure of watching Bygone Theatre's production of "Doubt" in a capacious ecclesiastical hall at the University of Toronto. Though I don't think Bygone would term this piece a "site-specific", I absolutely did. I felt, the entire time, as though I was sitting in a chapel and, when in Sister Aloysius' office, I literally felt as though I was peering straight through a wall. Emily Dix, up-and-coming Toronto-based stage director, did a fantastic job staging seamless set transitions in order to use the unconventional space to her advantage.
Shanley's scripts are rhetoric-heavy and, at times, hard to perform but the acting in Bygone's production took it to it's best. Though hasty at times last night, the pace of the show was authentic and accompanied by fantastic sound design.
Bygone's production closes tonight at 8 PM at the UC East Hall on University of Toronto campus. For details: http://www.bygonetheatre.com/#!doubt-a-parable/c8d0
For a clip from Broadway: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qO1KHNw8BwQ