Judith Thompson

Such Creatures by Judith Thompson - Incompletely Strangled

Judith Thompson's writing is hallmarked by its unwavering focus on difficult subject matter, and Such Creatures is no different. The piece consists of two monologues; an octagenarian holocaust survivor re-visiting the locale of her internment and re-living memories of her own revolt against the oppressor, contrasted with a teenage girl inner-city Toronto fighting her way through a single substance abusing parent, high school, and rivals. Each monologue unfolds, initially in longer sections back and forth, however as the stories and the plight of each woman unfolds, the overlap grows closer, calling the similiarity of their fear to mind.

This production, the first from new company Incompletely Strangled, and directed by veteran Arne McPherson does a fair job of introducing the two women to us; initially they are miles apart, yet as their stories grow, the space between their experience shrinks. Doreen Brownstone shines as the older woman, beautifully crafting her story and pulling the audience through each moment with a magnetism that is outstanding to watch. Although some pieces of the text were referenced from a script cleverly hidden in her stack of books, this did not impact her performance whatsoever, her clarity of intent pressing forward. The younger character was played with spunk by Gislina Patterson; we were taken along her journey of fear hidden behind a tough exterior. While she hits some of the tough notes beautifully, her performance at times could have benefited from a bit of simplicity which would have given the overall performance more shape. A difficult role for any young performer, Patterson certainly shows a gem of talent I look forward to seeing develop.

The production as a whole, however, felt stunted by design. The stage was split into two halves, divided harshly not only by light, but also a 6 foot chain link fence. The older woman's side remained static and clean, while the younger's side was littered as a playground, and also had projections on the back wall. For me, the division of the set meant that not only were the transitions back and forth a bit slow rather than a ping pong match between the two women's stories I would have liked to see, but also the overall feeling Thompson crafts - that these experiences are encroaching on one another, and at their core of fear aren't at all unlike one another - was lost. I would have liked to see both women inhabit the same space somehow. Additionally, while some of the projections were compelling, others were quite heavy handed in their imagery.

All of this aside, I did enjoy the piece, and look forward to what Incompletely Strangled bring forward next!

The Crackwalker by Judith Thompson - Sweet and Salty Collective

This new Winnipeg theatre company burst out of the gates with their premiere production of Judith Thompson's The Crackwalker. Helmed by Debbie Patterson, the cast led the audience through an up close and personal interaction with people normally at an arm's distance from polite middle class company. Thompson's play, which focuses on a mentally challenged prostitute and her boyfriend, along with her abused friend and her abusive boyfriend lays out in plain view that which many of us wish to pretend does not occur; people of base needs making poor choices, all of which get infinitely more complex when a baby is introduced into the mix. Stylistically, the production took many risks which paid off; situated in the basement of a legion in what is generally considered a seedy neighbourhood, the first encounter with the characters is actually outside at a bus stop where the first scene takes place. The audience are then led in and downstairs, giving the feeling that they have truly stepped outside their own world and down into the underbelly. From there, in casual seating, the action takes place around the room, and many bar scenes make the audience feel that they are right there in the middle of things. This immersive quality was highly effective in initially creating a sense of comaraderie, then shocking us as the play transpires into judgement of the characters' actions, immediately followed by a realization of the prejudices which feed those thoughts.

The ensemble, led by Spenser Payne in the leading role, were superb.

If you missed this, you may have missed the best thing to step out on a stage (or orangey brown cacrpet) in Winnipeg this year.

FemFest 2012 Begins!

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the Opening Cabaret for the 10th Annual FemFest. I've had a fairly lengthy history with FemFest - I first worked with the festival as Assistant to Director Hope McIntyre (AD of the Festival) for Ordinary Times in 2005. Since then, I've directed workshop productions of new plays (The Dance of Sara Weins, 2006), shared my own work-in-progress piece Lavinia in the 2009 Cabaret, directed scenes for the launch of their book of scenes for female actresses (Generation NeXXt, 2010) and now directing readings of short plays in the 2012 festival. As I sat in the audience, hearing host and festival supporter Susan Tymofychuk speak of the history of the festival, and the opportunity it has provided for emerging artists (particularly female ones) I reflected on these experiences. FemFest has provided me the opportunity to hone my skills as a director and creator of work, providing a safe environment for me to learn and help those around me explore new works of theatre. I don't know of many festivals anywhere in the world that provide this kind of environment, and I must say that my career has been enriched immeasurably due to my involvement with FemFest.

There are shows throughout this week at the Centre for Theatre & Film at the University of Winnipeg; ticket prices are very affordable, including many free readings and talks about creating theatre. I encourage you to try to spend at least an hour taking in a piece of the festival. The work presented touches on all aspects of human experience; from Food Bank usage to Immigrant families, re-imagined fairy tales to readings from esteemed playwrights. Judith Thompson is this year's guest artist. She is one of the most well-known Canadian playwrights, and certainly the most known female playwright from Canada, and her support and participation in the festival says a lot about the amazing work Sarasvati do.

Take some time and check it out this week!