I had a long Saturday afternoon and evening, taking on three of the Fringe’s darker performances. I decided to be strategic I my selection, and chose plays located at the Cultch Theatre, and thus staggered Little One by Hannah Moscovitch, The Body of a Woman as a Battlefield in the Bosnian War by Matei Visniec, and Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
I was pleased with Moscovitch’s Little One. The play is narrated by Aaron, whose parents died under tragic circumstances as a young child, who was raised by his partially deaf aunt and, upon whose death in his early youth (probably around the age of twelve), was adopted by Mom and Dad. Adopted somewhat around the same time was his younger sister, Clare. Clare might not even be Clare’s name, as she was found abandoned in a derelict building. The happy family are living in a middle class nice Ottawa neighbourhood.
Aaron narrates from the perspective of an adult, a medical student, and the play flashes between the narration, which is set as a series of monologues, and scenes fluidly enacted from his narration. The acting is brilliant and mesmerizing, the text descriptive enough so that each scene is vividly imagined though the actual set is minimalist at best.
The performance wavers between comedic, as Aaron describes his sister’s psychopathic and sociopathic tendencies and how the family unit sacrifices all to try to help Clare normalize, to tragic, as the scenes where Clare appears are chilling.
Daniel Arnold does a superb job as Aaron, trying to be a good son to Mom and Dad, and a good brother to Clare: he gives up hockey and his social life to support Clare at home as everyone waits with bated breath to see if Clare can remember her name and stop stabbing herself with knives, how he tries to teach Clare how to deal with Aaron’s new kitten ‘Little One,’ and how tries to escape his stifled teenage years on a family camping trip by hanging out with the girl with the red coat.
You feel for Aaron, as he’s a good kid really trying to do best with a terrible situation that is clearly impacting his life, though his adopted parents seem oblivious to the fact of this.
Marisa Smith as Clare gives a superlative performance. Her blank look and ever present wide smile puts me to mind of the same blank looks that pit bulls have: nobody home; they’re simply, present.
One of the interesting subtexts of the play are Clare’s occasional monologues relating to a set of neighbours, Roger and Kim Lee. The little vignettes of the couple’s life, from when they met, to the first (and only) disastrous dinner with Aaron and Clare’s family, are eerie in the detached curiosity with which Clare describes the scenes. It is clear that she has been peeping in on the couple’s life, and you are led to wonder whether her fascination with the couple had anything to do with her suppressed past.
Little One is a fantastic play, and it was a privilege to be able to see such a stellar performance from both Arnold and Smith, and the highlight of the three plays that I saw.
The Body of a Woman as a Battlefield in the Bosnian War was a very sombre reflection on some of the horrors of the Bosnian war: the mass executions of Bosnian males in Srebrenica, and the subsequent exhumation of these mass graves by international organizations; and the use of rape as a system of terror against Bosnia women.
This play was particularly poignant for me as a I have a Bosnian friend who lived through the horrors of the Bosnia war when she was in her early teens. She shared how one day, when she was home alone, some Serbian soldiers had banged on the door of the home, and she let them in. They seemed to be looking for someone and left shortly thereafter, and when she told her mother of the experience, her mother was terrified that the soldiers might come back and either try to take my friend away to rape her, or to take away the males of the family.
The realities of the Bosnian war did not happen so long ago and out of our memory for us to forget these atrocities. The performances by Sinziana Corozel (as the victim of gang rape) and by Qelsey Zeeper (as the American psychologist who was working on the exhumations of the mass graves before suffering from PTSD) are excellent.
One thing I found a bit disjointing, and took away from the seriousness of the whole play, was an interlude where the two characters list off all the Balkan stereotypes while drinking wine. Perhaps this scene was meant to relieve some of the tension of the subject matter, but it only served to annoy.
Overall, a good play, a solid performance, and a good reminder that such atrocities still need to be fought.
Lastly, Macbeth. The director, Danielle Benzon, had put an interesting twist to this old classic, but opening the play in an asylum where Macbeth is awaiting execution for the murders of Duncan, Banquo, and MacDuff’s family. The play ends with the execution. Benzon does an amazing job of making the script fit this theme, without any major deviation from Shakespeare’s script, relative to both the text and the scenes. The other neat twist was making Malcolm and Donalbain, Duncan’s sons in the original play, princesses instead of princes. The change works fabulously well, with a particularly strong performance from Kallie Jean Sorensen as Malcolm.
A nod must be given to the three witches, James Dolby, Julia Fox, and Madlen Scot, very primordial and thoroughly dissolute, and were ever present throughout the play as they took on the roles of Banquo’s and Lady MacDuff’s murderers, and asylum orderlies. I loved their costumes, make-up, and thoroughly delightful despicableness; I would not want to meet them on a dark night on the heath.
Thankfully, the night was young that Fringe Fest Saturday, and no witches abroad. It had been a great way to end my Fringe Fest experience, and I’m looking forward to the next.