Review: I, CLAUDIA

by Lynn on December 6, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Park Place Theatre at the Mady Centre, Barrie, Ont.

Written by Kristen Thompson
Directed by Mitchell Cushman
Set and Lighting by Nick Blais
Costumes by Joe Pagnan
Sound by Christopher Stanton
Starring: Amy Keating

A touching, provocative rendering of Kirsten Thompson’s beautifully moving story of Claudia and three people who factor heavily in her life.

The Story. Claudia is a precocious, perceptive awkward, wounded 12 ¾ year-old-girl. Her parents are divorced. She lives with her mother and has the usual issues with her about cleaning up her room. She stays overnight on Mondays at her father’s place. She adores him because she misses him and is of course upset because her parents are divorced.

She learns by accident that her father is seeing a woman named Leslie. And learns further that her father is going to marry her. As much as Claudia is upset, so is her mother but tries to hide it. As all innocent, sweet, precocious kids, Claudia wants her parents to get back together. She takes some of her mother’s hair from her hairbrush and puts it under her father’s pillow in the hopes they will get back together. She takes one of her father’s socks in which she puts her juice boxes, just to have a bit of him with her.

Tuesdays are terrible for her because her overnight with her father is over. She hides in the basement of the elementary school she goes to, to collect her thoughts and be by herself. There is the janitor, Drachman, who watches out for her from afar. Drachman is from Bolgonia—don’t try and look it up, just take it on faith—he was a successful artistic director of the country’s national theatre and now he’s ‘sweeping up dust bunnies’ in that school. He can appreciate that Claudia is going through a hard time and might be a danger to herself. She puts her father’s socks in an electrical box. Drachman creates a shield between the sock and the electricals.

There is her grandfather Douglas with his own issues of getting older. He’s forgetful. He can’t remember that his son David and his wife are divorced. He can’t remember David’s girlfriend’s name (Leslie). And there are hints that Douglas cheated on his wife early in their marriage.

And we see Leslie who is fierce and fragile. She’s had to claw her way into a managerial position in a man’s world. She’s had to endure snide remarks from her parents about her private life. She is tremendously insecure. She chats up David at a conference and begins an affair with him while he’s married. She loves him and believes she’ll be happy. Leslie has always been the one for me who is the most damaged. Claudia is loved and will get through her angst. Leslie? I’m not sure.

The Production. Nick Blais has created a round space that looks sort of like a beach with what seems to be a sandy floor and beach chairs in the front row. The audience sits in a semi-circle around the space. At the same time Blais’s design looks like the grungy basement of the school. There is old equipment strewn around the playing area. In one case Claudia will project quotes etc. from transparencies onto one of the opaque plastic sheets that hangs down from the flies. A fishbowl with her two fish, Romeo and Juliet, will be brought out from one of the boxes on the floor. There is a pail of water into which Claudia will hurl her empty juice boxes. Unused text books are piled around the space, affording Claudia and later Leslie a platform on which to stand.

When Kristen Thompson wrote and starred in the piece 15 years ago, she used particular masks that evoked the characters. Every time the play is done, masks are used. Claudia’s mask is round eyed with the mouth free: Leslie’s is pinched; Douglas is round-faced and pudgy and Drachman is wizened, sharp-featured.

In this case Amy Keating is playing Claudia and the others and she’s doing it beautifully. She uses masks, body language and costumes to differentiate between characters. Who ever is doing the show finds a way to change from character to character from mask to mask in front of the audience. Amy Keating and her director Mitchell Cushman, hide the masks in various places. It adds a sweet sense of wonder when a box or a cupboard is opened and there is a mask waiting to be used. When the scene is finished, the mask is carefully suspended from a rod by a clothes pin. There is great delicacy and care with the masks.

When Keating changes from one mask to another she bows her head, delicately takes off one mask, sets it down and dons another mask. If she is Drachman or Douglas her blonde hair is pulled back in a pony tale. If it’s Leslie, the hair is flipped out and seductive. For Claudia, Keating wears a bulky sweater, black pants and comfortable shoes. For Leslie there is a quick change of masks and the pants come off to reveal a mini-dress. Her movements are extraverted; big; attention grabbing. Claudia is awkward, with a flat-footed quick walk.

Thompson’s writing is funny, perceptive to the sensitivities of a kid enduring divorce and loneliness; and compassionate of the other characters too.

I’ve seen I, Claudia with several actresses and each brought her own thought processes to the production. Amy Keating brings her own interpretation and she does it beautifully. You just ache for her and you cheer her on. I loved Keating’s work.

If I have a comment it’s that she tends to drop words at the end of sentences because she says them in a low voice. At the top of the show Drachman explains that he’s misplaced a placard. Keating seemed to drop the word. A bit more clarity would be perfect. It’s directed with imagination and a sense of discovery by Mitchell Cushman in that masks are hidden in boxes, cupboards etc.

I love the music that enhances scenes and characters. I, Claudia is a wonderful piece of writing.

The production is touching. It’s in Barrie and worth the drive to see it.

Talk is Free Theatre presents:

Opened: Nov. 27, 2014
Closes: Dec. 6, 2014.
Cast: 1 woman
Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

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1 Tandy Cronyn December 6, 2014 at 11:25 am

Oooooohhhhhh, I wish I could have seen this! Has it ever been produced anywhere in the US?