Review: 1991

by Lynn on May 28, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St. W., Toronto, Ont.

Written and directed by Cole Lewis

Projection and sound design by Patrick Blenkarn

Creation of the landscape of the live movie by Sam Ferguson

Lighting by André du Toit

Cast: Cole Lewis

Jessica Carmichael

Mina James

Montserrat Videla

1991 is a bracing look at sex and consent from the focus of a 12 year old girl in 1991.

The Story. 1991 is part of the RISER Project, a collaborative producing model initiated by Why Not Theatre in which emerging artists partner with senior companies to produce new work.

In 1991 Nicole is 12 years old. (It’s an easy assumption that Nicole is really Cole Lewis, but in the press information it says that “welfare kid, Nicole, voiced by Cole Lewis…” so let’s leave it vague). A serial killer has struck again in Nicole’s home town, a situation that haunts Nicole. Her parents are divorced and for most of the time she lives with her mother. But her mother is struggling to make ends meet so Nicole’s father comes and gets her to come and live with him in Georgia. He’s an ex-Vietnam vet, a hard-drinking, short-tempered, hard-fighting unhappy man who drags Nicole from bar to bar while he entertains the folks with stories.

Nicole was embarrassed as the new kid in the school because she didn’t seem to know anything about sex, or her body, or how a body changes when it develops. Her mother didn’t seem to have told her anything. This 12 year old kid is lost in trying to fit in and not make her father angry.

Then something happens and Nicole finds herself in a situation with a new friend—a girl– and some older men, and the whole question of consent is brought up and looked at but from a different way than we do today.

The Production. It is fascinating, bracing, unsettling and provocative. Cole Lewis sits at one end of a table with a script.  Jessica Carmichael sits at the other end of the table with a script and does all the various voices for the friends, the men and Nicole’s father by speaking into a microphone in various ways of expression.

In the middle of the table are two old fashioned overhead projectors and two actors, Mina James and Montserrat Videla who feed plastic sheets onto the screen of the machine that reflect the people and the story being read on a screen at the back of the theatre. So there is shadow play of Nicole’s father drinking in the bar; the hulking men who drive Nicole and her new friend to a deserted fair ground to do mischief. The whole story is read by Cole Lewis and Jessica Carmichael but visualized by the over head projectors and the many plastic sheets that depict what is being said.

It’s like a play but really more a film, but is it?  It’s a play/film/projection hybrid. Does it work? It did once I got over my own opposition to watching people read a script. I realized it was a play/film presentation and it is pretty bold to use old fashioned overhead projectors to tell the story, which makes sense since it’s 1991. And then as the story gets darker and darker and Nicole at 12 is in some serious danger, it just grabs you.

Cole Lewis paints a picture of a time when Nicole had precious little guidance from an adult who cared. There is a waitress who is hard nosed but senses something is wrong. And of course, the whole question of consent is turned on it’s head.

Comment. In the end 1991 is a compelling piece of theatre and the kind of stuff that the RISER project does as a matter of course.

guilty by association presents and the RISER Project present:

1991 plays at the Theatre Centre until June 1 2019.

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