Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Powerful performance, direction add layers to otherwise depressing journey

Tragic queerness marks stark hetero drama

I’d hoped to completely inhale my husband.
Be his only sustenance . . .

I’d have to get all three of them dressed.
Each time was like starting my whole life over . . .

Individual lines from the current Nightwood Theatre/Canadian Stage coproduction of Jennifer Tremblay’s The List read as a kind of precise prose poetry that exposes the potentially overwhelming nature of altruism and familial dependence. This one-woman tour de force is a hauntingly beautiful rendition of a poetic script that gestures toward hints of tragic “queerness” that can mark the seemingly perfect landscape of a stark heterosexual drama.

At its most basic, “queer” can denote the gaps we may find within any traditional social structure, gaps that intimate the possibility of utter destruction and absolute chaos in the midst of normativity and relative calm. Translated by Shelley Tepperman, directed by Kelly Thornton, and performed by Allegra Fulton, this production, from beginning to end, possesses a paradoxical mixture of domestic bliss hovering under the shadow of enormous discontent.

Fulton’s performance is flawless as she sculpts each line, both physically and emotionally, with a clarity that allows the audience to follow her journey in a way that enables laughter, sympathy and great regret to occur within seconds of each other. This is a very measured roller coaster ride that has been produced by a production team capable of rendering a challenging poetic drama in a truly elegiac and skilful manner.

The designers have created a fully integrated environment that complements Thornton’s strong, precisely paced direction. Set and costume by Denyse Karn are crisp and engaging as they define the open yet claustrophobic playing space, with a large hanging tree punctuating the edges of a spotless kitchen. The use of props early on in the play is a brilliant device that grabs audience attention silently and instantly, and pulls us, through its comic repetition, into a world of endless lists and absolute anxiety. Lighting by Kimberly Purtell and sound by Eric Meadows provide the drama with a gorgeous sense of the complex atmosphere that envelopes the lone speaking body at odds with her surroundings.

But it is Fulton’s expert handling of the staccato, measured language, under Thornton’s direction, that brings the necessary layers to what could have been a very depressing journey. Instead, we have an actress and a director who give us hints of tragedy and joy throughout, delivering a moving and powerful testament to the very queer ways in which otherwise traditional, “normal” lives can threaten to unravel at a moment’s notice.

The List runs at the Berkely Street Theatre, (downstairs) 26 Berkely St, until Nov 6th.