by Lynn on May 5, 2012

in The Passionate Playgoer

Pamela Sinha; photo by Aviva Armour-Ostroff

The following two reviews were broadcast Friday, May 4, 2012, on CIUT FRIDAY MORNING. CIUT 89.5 FM. CRASH at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace until May 13 and THE REAL WORLD?? At Tarragon Mainspace until June 3.

The host was Rose Palmieri.

1) Good Friday Morning, it’s time for our regular theatre review with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer.

Hi Lynn

What do you have for us today?

I’ve got two that opened this week which coincidentally have similar themes.

One is CRASH by Pamela Sinha, that opened at Theatre Passe Muraille backspace.

And the other is THE REAL WORLD? By Michel Tremblay, celebrated French Canadian playwright, at Tarragon Mainspace.

2) What are the similar themes?

Each deals with a painful incident. In each the characters suppress the memory of that incident with drastic results. Each deals with secrecy, guilt, resentment. Each is very theatrical in the story-telling.

3) Let’s start with the CRASH—what a provocative title.

It is. It’s a one-person show, written and performed by Pamela Sinha. It’s told in the third person about a young woman referred to as ‘The girl.’ Crash is the sound that woke her up one night after she had just moved into her apartment in Montreal.

It was the window in her apartment being broken by a crowbar, used by the intruder who would brutalize her and leave her naked, face down on her bed and terrified to turn and look at him. She couldn’t be sure, but she thought it was the cabdriver who drove her to her knew place. He helped bring some stuff in and got a good look at her apartment.

The police are sensitive to her but there are difficulties in getting the guy.

The play is really about coping. How the girl coped and how her family rallied but had their own issues with what happened to her. She has a younger brother who is very supportive.

CRASH is a compelling, gripping piece of theatre, and certainly when we realize who “the girl” is. Pamela Sinha shows that forgetting and not remembering are not the same thing. At times the girl suppresses the memory; at others she tries to remember details that have eluded her for years.

The memories flood back when she attends her father’s funeral and has to face all sorts of family and friends. It deals with faith, trust, confidence, guilt and release.

4) So who is the girl?

It’s presented in the third person, but it’s really a first person account. This happened to Pamela Sinha when she was a theatre student years ago in Montreal. And the slow revelation when we realize that is stunning.

I love that decision to tell this in the third person. It gives us distance in a way from the person it happened to while we hear the details and get to know that girl. But when we realize that girl in the story and the woman telling it are the same person, then that distance becomes shorter and we are sucked into the story.

Pamela Sinha is a graceful, poetic writer. Details are spare but the images are crystal clear and memorable. As an actor she is understated and thus compelling. There is no gnashing of teeth or flailing around. But the production, nonetheless just grabs you.

5) I would think the story would certainly grab you. How does the production add to that grip?

The production is beautifully directed by Alan Dilworth—a really gifted director. He has a fine eye for the small but perfect detail and for guiding such a performance from Pamela Sinha.

There is an evocative set and lighting design by Kimberly Purtell. The set is multi-levelled that you get to by a series of stairs. Purtell is mainly a lighting designer, and her work here is moody, eerie, and provocative.

The sound is very important as well created by Debashis Sinha, her brother. The sound and lighting work in tandem to underline a startling moment or to change a scene. And completing the family affair, her mother Rubena Sinha created some of the choreography

Theatre at it’s finest.

6) And let’s continue with THE REAL WORLD? A question mark in the title? What does that mean?

The play was written by Michel Tremblay, and translated by John Van Burek and Bill Glassco. I think it means that everybody’s perception of things is so particular. Two people can look at the same thing and see things differently, but what is the real world after all the discussion?

This being Michel Tremblay, the play takes place in Quebec. Suppressed society. The play is about a family as seen through the eyes of the son, Claude. He is sensitive and watchful. He has written a play about his repressed, dysfunctional family, and in particular his parents.

His mother Madeleine has read it at his request and is appalled. She tells him that he has not written the truth. Or he has written things, using their own names, that are best left unsaid. Claude says he has written what he considers to be the truth. It’s not pretty.

I’m reminded of what David Ferry said last week when we had him on talking about is upcoming production of THE AGONY AND ECSTASY OF STEVE JOBS—all theatre is a lie, it just varies from person to person.

Claude’s father Alex is a flagrant philanderer. He’s a travelling insurance salesman, a sexist, a bully who always criticizes Claude for his wanting to be a playwright. He criticizes his wife who rebuffs his gruff advances when he comes home from a trip.

Claude’s sister Mariette is a go-go dancer in various hotels. The relationship between the father and daughter is to say the least, eye-brow raising. And there is a sordid family secret that everybody knows about but keeps suppressed.

Claude writes about all of it and naturally his family is angry. And while he is confronting his family about it, how he has actually written about the family is played out on stage at the same time.

So a play within a play, with Claude standing off watching. The world of Claude’s play and the world of his family play-out at the same time and collide.

6) Do we ever find out the secret?

Of course. This is where the two worlds, the collide. We have to decide which is real, where is the truth. Or are both real. The life of a playwright is never easy and certainly not in the emotionally charged world of The Real World?

The play debuted 25 years ago and it is as emotionally charged, as fraught today as it was then. In his particular way Tremblay has written a love letter to the theatre.

7) Is the production a love-letter too?

I think so certainly as directed by Richard Rose. He puts us in both worlds at the same time. It’s designed by Charlotte Dean who has set it in a straight forward proscenium stage with the set behind it. As in a play.

When Claude is interacting with his family he is right in the middle of the action. When his characters of his family in his play then come on stage—wearing sort of the same clothes as his real family—and play the same scenes we have seen for real, Claude sometimes steps out of the proscenium and watches the action he has written, unfold. That’s wonderfully theatrical.

We are engaged on two levels—what we think is the real world, and Claude’s idea of his real world. We always know where we are. It’s never confusing.

Richard Rose has directed a production that both takes us into that family and has us look at it from a distance. The performances are terrific, especially Matthew Edison as Claude. There is such passion and frustration in this character standing up to his bully father who does something terrible, but expected at the end.

In one of those wonderful ironies, Matthew Edison is himself a playwright. I love that juxtaposition. As Alex the ‘real’ father, Tony Nappo is easy going, a smiler, and a lethal streak lurks beneath.

As the theatrical father in Claude’s play, Cliff Saunders has a sleazy charm and his anger is overt. As the real mother, Jane Spidell is tightly wound, ready to explode at her son for telling family secrets and her husband for everything else.

Dysfunctional families—we’ve seen plays dealing with them before, but this is Tremblay and it’s so much more—passion, fury, frustration, and sheer theatre.

Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at

CRASH plays at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace until May 13. Tickets at 416-504.7529

THE REAL WORLD? Plays at the Tarragon Mainspace until June 3. Tickets: 416-531-1827

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