Such Creatures

by Lynn on February 7, 2010

in Archive,Picks & Pans

Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace until February 6, 2010

What do Shakespeare, the leader of a girl-gang, and a survivor of Auschwitz have in common? They all factor heavily in Judith Thompson’s new play, SUCH CREATURES, which opened last night at Theatre Passe Muraille’s Backsapace. Our theatre critic, Lynn Slotkin, is here to tell us if it works or not.

Lynn Hello. What’s the play about… it seems packed with improbable subjects.

Before I get to that, a word about Judith Thompson. She has been a leading playwright in this country for 30 years. Writing about the marginalized, the forgotten or ignored of society. Her first play, THE CRACKWALKER, had its premiere 30 years ago at the Backspace of Theatre Passe Muraille, so her production of SUCH CREATURES is a sweet homecoming. The play is composed of separate, yet interwoven monologues of two women. Blandy is a tough, street-smart 15 year old, and Sorele is a 50 something survivor of Auschwitz.

Blandy riffs on her mentally ill mother, that she’s in a special ed class but she’s not stupid, that she is the leader of a gang of equally tough girls, and Shakespeare. She’s been asked to be one of three students to play HAMLET in a class production and miraculously, she finds an affinity with the brooding Dane.

Brandy is brooding herself. A rival gang has threatened to kill her Because they think she squealed on someone.

And how does Sorele fit in to the play?

Sorele is remembering those days of horror when she too was 15 and she and her sister were struggling to survive in Auschwitz. She and her sister were part of a group of girls who plotted and succeeded in blowing up a crematorium. Sorele tells us that her sister was tortured before she died, but never betrayed her colleagues. And now Sorele lives with the memories.

Shakespeare also factors in her life. When she was younger she played Miranda in the Tempest, who marveled on the wonder and beauty of mankind. Lots of irony in SUCH CREATURES, The title of which also comes from THE TEMPEST. So while the play is full of seemingly improbable situations, Judith Thompson’s beautiful writing and the creators of the production make it work.

How so?

First of all Judith Thompson’s dialogue is exquisite and true for both women. She nails the street jive and sass of Blandy. It’s full of dazzling, gritty imagery. It’s almost like a stream of consciousness, full of vigor, humour, edge and even sweetness.

And I absolutely believe that this disadvantaged kid would balk at learning Shakespeare but revel in how the character has had her experiences. With Sorele, the dialogue is thoughtful, tempered, eloquent and just as harrowing.

Her imagery is also compelling—she speaks of something spreading like “mushrooms through a garden”…we can see that. Both women are facing death in their own way. I’m not completely convinced that a young girl in a concentration camp facing death is the same as a young girl in modern Toronto facing death from a rival gang of bullies, but I appreciate Thompson’s argument. Brian Quirt’s direction is also fluid and gripping. Initially both women are in separate spaces. Blandy is on stage telling her story. Sorele begins hers sitting in the audience. As the play progresses their movements bring them closer and closer until they are almost side by side.

And the performances are nothing short of stunning.

Tell us about those.

As Blandy, Michaela Washburn has shafts of blazing red streaked through her black hair. It looks like flames of fire. She shifts and twitches like a hyperactive kid. She’s both formidable and fragile. And Washburn’s facility with the language, the jive of it, is a thing of beauty. As Sorele, Maria Vacratsis is elegant, almost regal, quiet and when the time comes hard, driven and brutal. Both actresses give towering performances.

As I said, I’m not totally convinced that the experiences of both women are equitable, but as always, Judith Thompson shines a light on two women and their lives that we might not have considered. She burst onto the scene 30 years ago With all guns blazing, and she’s still firing on all cylinders.

SUCH CREATURES plays at the Theatre Passe Muraille’s Backspace until February 6.