RARE RE­SULTS

NOW Magazine - - STAGE -

AFter the BLACk­out by Ju­dith Thomp­son (Soulpep­per/RARE The­atre Com­pany). At the Young Cen­tre (50 Tank House). Runs to May 26. $35-$50. See Con­tin­u­ing, page 28. Rat­ing: nnn

Ju­dith Thomp­son re­vis­its the in­ter­sect­ing fates of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties on the mar­gins with mixed re­sults in After The Black­out. The Gov­er­nor Gen­eral’s Award-win­ning play­wright and di­rec­tor achieves mo­ments of real lyri­cism and warmth. Yet she too of­ten strains for poignant notes while treat­ing her ac­tors’ dis­abil­i­ties as a pre­tense for over-reach­ing hu­man­ist drama.

Orig­i­nally de­vel­oped as a tes­ti­mo­nial play flow­ing from the lived ex­pe­ri­ences of six per­form­ers from her RARE The­atre Com­pany, who have the same range of phys­i­cal and cog­ni­tive dis­abil­i­ties as their char­ac­ters, the script evolved into a less dis­tinc­tive melo­drama about an im­prob­a­bly linked en­sem­ble who con­vene at the cot­tage one starry night to ex­or­cise the trau­matic mo­ments of their lives.

Thomp­son gives the ac­tors meaty mono­logues to chew on, but treat­ing their sto­ries as in­ter­lock­ing pieces in a larger puz­zle about suf­fer­ing while dis­abled dulls their unique bite, de­spite the ac­tors’ pow­er­ful and earnest in­vest­ment in the ma­te­rial.

Mary Beth Rubens, who played a vic­tim in the slasher film Prom Night be­fore a brain in­jury halted her ca­reer, strikes a del­i­cate bal­ance be­tween fad­ing movie star van­ity, vul­ner­a­bil­ity and grit in her char­ac­ter Roxy’s mono­logues about ag­ing and re­cov­ery. But she’s lim­ited by the schematic way Roxy is set off against Prince Am­pon­sah’s Khari, a gen­tle po­etry pro­fes­sor and dou­ble arm am­putee who be­comes a too-neat sym­bol for po­lice vi­o­lence against Black men with dis­abil­i­ties.

Both per­form­ers con­nect, de­spite those con­trivances. Still, like deaf cast mem­bers Cather­ine Joell MacKin­non and Tamyka Bullen, whose ges­tu­ral ASL duets in front of a star­lit night scene were marred on open­ing night by some stac­cato, oddly paced cap­tions on the screen be­hind them, they de­serve better.

Cap­tion­ing hic­cups aside, the spare stag­ing, which fre­quently finds the en­sem­ble gath­ered be­low the soft light of the moon, oth­er­wise suits the uni­ver­sal­ism of their sto­ries. Thomp­son strikes a grace note in al­low­ing her per­form­ers’ dis­tinct phys­i­cal­ity to shine through in the set changes be­tween scenes, invit­ing us to watch as they gin­gerly ma­nip­u­late the fur­ni­ture around them as in real life.

It’s in th­ese throw­away mo­ments, when the ac­tors in­habit their bod­ies with­out the bur­den of sig­nalling some larger point about dis­abil­ity, that the show feels, yes, rare. An­geLo mureDDA

De­spite script con­trivances, Prince Am­pon­sah con­nects with the crowd.

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