Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Grey matter

Damien Atkins on his 'fierce' new role as a brain-injury survivor

Atkins plays David, a character trying to cope with the childhood trauma that left him impaired.
Eighteen years. Eighteen long, increasingly boring years that somehow went from marital bliss to polite tolerance and general indifference for disillusioned couple Cathy and Peter. And as tempting as it may be to place blame on Peter’s demanding work as a community clinic doctor or Cathy’s creative dry spell as a standup comic, it’s clear that there are deeper issues at work, pulling the couple apart.
Now they teeter at the edge of an outcome: will they tumble forward into separation and divorce or pull themselves back to solid ground with a renewed sense of commitment and purpose? The question is brought into clear, painful focus after an eye-opening encounter with a third party in Kristen Thomson’s new play, Someone Else.
“It really is a beautiful, humorous and raw telling of a marriage in crisis,” says Damien Atkins, who plays the character David in the play. “When I read the scenes for my character at the audition, I thought to myself, ‘This is the most beautifully written part that will appear on the Toronto stage this whole season.’”
It’s a sound prediction, given Thomson’s previous success with the international smash hit I, Claudia. The playwright has a true gift with dialogue, weaving tragedy and humour together in fresh ways that are as moving as they are laugh-out-loud funny. Atkins confesses he is a long-time fan of her work.
“We were in the Matthew Shephard Story together,” he says, “but before I met her I used to write her fan letters. We’re so lucky here in Canada; we have such exquisite actors and creators here, and they’re actually accessible to us. Kristen is a world-class actor and writer, and she’s right here.”
Atkins’ character is a brain-injury survivor trying to cope with the childhood trauma that has left him impaired for 28 years. “He’s pretty fierce,” Atkins says. “A really disinhibited, candid person who says whatever comes to his mind. That’s the hallmark of acquired brain injury.”
The writer/actor knows whereof he speaks, having researched the phenomena several years ago for his own play, Good Mother. Revisiting that research and exposing himself further has proven an eye-opening experience.
“I sat in on support groups for brain-injury survivors and then went back and did a drama club with them,” he says. “I was sitting there in the club, doing various exercises with them, and thought, ‘How else would I ever have an amazing experience like this?’ To meet these people and have intimate conversations with them, there’s a lot of beautiful moments there. Sweet, really honest moments with people.”
This sort of exhaustive investigation is routinely undertaken by Atkins as he prepares for the writing or performance of a new character. He feels his penchant for assembling back stories, diaries and character scrapbooks allows a deeper immersion into the creation that will eventually land onstage. 
“It totally is just about make-believe,” he says. “If you can construct the character with enough detail that you can lose yourself in the role and then emerge from the other side at the end, that, to me, is the fun part.”


Someone Else
Runs till Sat, Feb 2
Berkeley Street Theatre
26 Berkeley St