The List

by Lynn on November 6, 2010

in Archive,Picks & Pans

We all keep lists of some kind or other. But list keeping takes on a whole new meaning with shattering results in a new play that opened last night, called appropriately enough, THE LIST. Our theatre critic, Lynn Slotkin, is here to itemize what she thought of it.

Hi Lynn. Before we get into the story, the play comes with some pedigree doesn’t it?

It certainly does. It won the French language Governor General’s Award in 2008, for its playwright Jennifer Tremblay. I would also hope that her gifted translator, Shelley Tepperman, was awarded for her work too. The result is a shattering, haunting play.

What is the story?

A woman sits in her immaculate, white kitchen peeling apples on one of those peeling machines. She’s preparing the apples for apple sauce. She is obviously pre-occupied with something that is affecting her emotionally. She tells us that she keeps tight, detailed lists which she sticks to, even more so since her neighbour Caroline died.

The woman feels responsible. Caroline asked the woman for a favour. The woman put it on her list, kept on revising the list with the request and then eventually neglected to put the request on the list. The result is that Caroline died because of that neglect. We learn this in the first five minutes, so I’m not giving anything away.

Jennifer Tremblay’s writing is spare, pristine and vivid.

And it’s a one-woman show. Is it a multi-character play with one actress playing all the parts.

We all know shows like that. This isn’t one of them. There is the narrator (the woman) and very occasionally Caroline. The incomparable Allegra Fulton takes us into the worlds of both women. We learn the details from the woman, (and isn’t it so telling she is not named, but Caroline is).

THE LIST is as much about character as it is about story-telling.

So we learn that the woman has moved with her husband and three children, to a small Quebec village from the big city, because she wants more time with her husband. But it doesn’t work out that way. He is always tired because he has to travel to the city to work. The woman comes to hate the village, knows no one and doesn’t want to.

Caroline is the one who befriends her. Caroline has four children. As compulsively neat as the woman is, that’s how messy Caroline is. So initially the woman isn’t really interested in her friendship. But things change when Caroline makes her request for the favour.

How is Allegra Fulton incomparable?

She is a fine actress and proves it resoundingly here. This is a performance full of nuance, subtlety, control and quiet passion. She rivets us by talking softly, slowly at first. We see a haunted woman without any sentiment which makes the performance and the play more powerful. This death has left her shattered and desperate to get her life back to normal.

But that’s far off… her fridge is full of apples and containers of home made apple sauce. She continues to clean, tidy and polish as usual, but we know it’s to hide her guilt and despair at what she’s done. There is also fine work by director Kelly Thornton who has Fulton tread a fine line between normal and not.

For example the woman picks up her husband’s shoe and holds it close suggesting how much she wants to have more of him in her life. It’s beautiful direction that serves the play and the performance and makes every moment shimmer with consequence.

You obviously liked the production. Why should we see THE LIST?

Because like all fine theatre, it takes you into the world of the play and the lives of the characters, observing close at and what the characters are going through. Then at the end it lets you go back to your own world, but you are changed. If someone asks for a favour, you won’t hesitate. Someone is in trouble, you won’t walk away. Good theatre does that. THE LIST is special in every way.

Don’t miss it.

THE LIST plays at the Berkeley Street Theatre, Downstairs until November 6.