At the Storefront Theatre, 955 Bloor St. W. Toronto, Ont.
Written by Mike Bartlett.
Directed by Jeannette Lambermont-Morey.
Scenographer, Claire Hill.
Sound by Dimitar Pentchev.
Lighting by Melissa Joakim.
Starring: Catherine McNally, Harmonie Tower.
Produced by Red One Theatre Collective. Plays until May 25
Kafka meets Big Brother and makes everybody really uncomfortable.
The Story. Emma is a good sales representative for the company she works for. But there is a problem and her manager calls her into her office. Several times. It seems part of Emma’s pages long contract that she signed, is a paragraph that says she cannot have any connection to a colleague that will lead to a ‘relationship.’ She went to dinner with a male colleague and the assumption is that forming a romantic relationship is the intention. Emma counters with a logical answer. What follows are frequent interrogations with the Manager about Emma’s personal life, threats about keeping her job; separation from a loved one; a death etc. and the systematic chipping away at Emma’s confidence, well-being, and mental health, with Emma ultimately not offering much opposition.
The Production. Scenographer, Claire Hill has created a wonderfully effective spare, sterile office that is surrounded by walls of cardboard. There is a comfortable, upholstered office chair at a desk that is bare except for a small adding machine and perhaps a pen. There is no phone or any personal photos. At a remove stage left is an old wooden chair. Whoever comes to that office is not expected to stay long or be comfortable.
The Manager enters. No name for her. She wears a gray skirt and jacket and simple top. She wears reasonable heals. She is fastidious in her dress and everything else. When she takes a file out of her desk drawer and sets it aside she lines it up precisely at the corner of the desk. If she is using the file it is centred in front of her with the pencil exactly placed at the side of the file. “Anal” might be a way of describing her.
Emma arrives. She has been summoned. Emma is dressed in a demure skirt and jacket and top, sensible heels and a softer look than the Manager. As the Manager, Catherine McNally smiles a tight smile that suggests no warmth and a set patter greeting Emma, asking how she is and to take a seat—all said with no inflection or suggestion of interest in how she is. Every interrogation—no other word for it—begins in this same way. The Manager’s gaze never varies or the tone of the voice. When she asks Emma a question she already knows the answer. A sense of Emma always being under scrutiny pervades these conversations. McNally is intensely focused, relentless in the interrogation and frightening.
On the other hand, Emma, as played by Harmonie Tower, reacts with every question, eyes questioning, quietly concerned. Initially Emma has life, warmth and vitality. She too is cool but gradually, slowly begins to crumble as the interrogations continue. There are moments when she stands up to the bureaucracy, questions how invasive the company’s presence is in her life, but is overwhelmed. Watching this happen is gut-twisting.
Directing this with a firm, clear hand is Jeannette Lambermont-Morey. It is a short play and the revelations can’t be revealed too quickly. Lambermont-Morey makes sure that doesn’t happen. The relationships of the Manager and Emma are meticulously gauged.
Comment. Contractions is an adaptation of Bartlett’s 2007 radio play, Love Contract. Interesting that the radio play is called that since the whole business of sex and relationships factors pages in the actual contract that Emma had to sign. Bartlett certainly loves playing with words and perversely jerking people. Note his play Cock which is not about the male appendage or a cock fight as has been suggested as a metaphor. Contractions is an interesting play on the word ‘contract’ which is at the heart of the play in that that is where the problems started. Or it could be the contractions Emma had when she gave birth. Enough, I think I’m getting waylaid.
Contractions is being given a splendid production of a situation that is quite credible. Bartlett writes about a world where one gives into Big Brother looking over our shoulder with a hint of Kafka in not knowing why Big Brother is looking. Bartlett creates that sense of helplessness when the questions and bureaucracy coil around Emma tighter and tighter, with the tight smiling Manager pulling coils. Worth a visit to the always interesting Red One Theatre Collective.
Opened: May 8, 2014
Closes: May 25, 2014
Cast: 2 women
Running Time: 1 hour.