by Lynn on February 19, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Theatre Passe Muraille, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Suzanne Lebeau
Translated by Julia Duchesne and John van Burek
Directed by John van Burek
Designed by Teresa Przybylski
Lighting by Jason Hand
Composed by Debashis Sinha
Starring: Patricia Cano
Caity Quinn
Harveen Sandhu

A harrowing, unsentimental look at the life of two child soldiers.

The Story. We are in an unnamed, war-torn country. Elikia, aged thirteen, and Joseph, aged eight, escape from a rebel camp where they are child soldiers. After Elikia witnessed unspeakable tortures and rape of her mother and family by the rebels, she was taken by them into the jungle, chosen by the warlord to be his wife and given a gun. She was ten at the time. She stayed for three years. Joseph was new to the group. Each was trained as child soldiers to obey orders and kill who they were ordered to.

They escape with one pair of boots between them, little water and whatever food, grass and sand, they can find to eat. Elikia is trying to take Joseph home to his village by the sea.

Juxtaposed with this story is the story of Angelina, a nurse in a hospital near Joseph’s village that treats children, such as Joseph and Elikia, suffering from the horrors of war. Angelina is testifying at a tribunal about child soldiers. She is using Elikia’s journal to describe the unspeakable and indescribable.

The Production. Director John van Burek continues to bring challenging plays from other languages to Toronto under the aegis of his theatre company Pleiades Theatre. The Sound of Cracking Bones comes from celebrated French Canadian playwright, Suzanne Lebeau. Julia Duchesne and John Van Burek did the English translation of the play from the French.

Van Burek does not shy away from challenges or the darkness in the material. For the purposes of the play he cast a cross section of ethnicities to realize that there is no one ethnicity of child soldiers. He also cast three women to play all the parts, which means that a woman, Caity Quinn, plays Joseph. And she does it beautifully.

To suggest the dark world of the jungle, designer Teresa Przybylski has created two huge, tall and forbidding structures reminiscent of the tangled trees of the jungle. At times they revolve. The leaves seem to be made of some metal. There is a rustling sound when it revolves. It’s forbidding if you are a kid in the pitch dark of the jungle. Added to that is the evocative lighting of Jason Hand. The result is a menacing, forbidding environment in which the enemy can be anywhere.

Because the audience is watching two young kids run away from the rebels, there is a breathlessness about the children’s desire to get to freedom at all cost. The pace is ramped up because Elikia is jungle-smart. She knows the rebels, the dangers, the pitfalls and what awaits them if they get caught. And of course there is the relentless sense of running.

Harveen Sandhu as Elikia maintains that heightened sense of urgency. This is a nuanced performance even though it’s easy to fall into the temptation of just being totally angst-ridden. Sandhu avoids that but still let’s us know of the heart-pounding predicament both children are in.

As Joseph, Caity Quinn is all gangly arms and legs, and boyish exuberance. Joseph has been through hell but still has innocence on his side. He learns quickly. With her short hair it’s easy to be convinced that Quinn is in fact an eight year old boy. This is the magic of theatre to take us into another world when it’s done so well.

As Angelina, Patricia Cano is grace and patience personified. She must bear witness to a tribunal that hasn’t got a clue. She must convey the beauty and horror of what Elikia has written and Cano does it with a quiet delivery, composure, pauses in her dialogue full of importance. Her exasperation is so well placed at the ignorance of the unseen tribunal it is resounding. When Elikia came to the hospital Angelina convinced her to give up her gun in place of a notebook to record what she saw for those three years in the jungle. The result was that eloquent, grim account.

Comment. In the last week I’ve seen two challenging plays that don’t let you look away. Abyss at Tarragon Extraspace is about the effects of the horrors of war on a young child who sees his family killed and carries that image with him into adulthood. And The Sound of Cracking Bones is about child soldiers who have seen and done worse.

Suzanne Lebeau in The Sound of Cracking Bones writes about something we only read about in the newspapers or see on the news, but she does it with a stunning poetic eloquence. Director John van Burek brings all that eloquence and fraught emotion to his gripping production. There certainly is something hard to think about. Kudos to everyone involve.

Pleiades Theatre with the support of Theatre Passe Muraille presents.

Opened: Feb. 18, 2015
Closes: Feb. 28, 2015
English performances: Feb. 18 – 28
French Performances: March 3-7, 2015
Cast: 3 women
Running Time: 70 minutes.

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.