by Robyn Lester
I kicked off my 2014 Ottawa Fringe experience with Natalie Joy Quesnel’s solo show, First Words.
Inspired by true events, First Words tells the story of Me, the one child who, while still in utero, survived a fire that killed her five older siblings. Heart-broken, Me’s mother vowed to replace each child she lost, giving them the same names as the ones who were killed. Starting with Me.
But this play wasn’t focused on re-hashing past tragic events. Rather, it was a story documenting and exploring the protagonist’s own complicated emotions. The guilt she felt for not feeling guilty. The frustration of having a name that served as a constant reminder of the child who should have lived. The child she was replacing. The play addressed the issue of identity and self-discovery in a way that was relatable, even if the circumstances were not.
The performance was powerful and engaging. Although the subject matter was dramatic, and tragic, Quesnel didn’t cater to melodrama. It was a lively performance with music, dance, and a character that was delightfully quirky and funny. By the end I had a great amount of respect for Me, and for the playwright who brought her into existence.
If you haven’t already, add this to your list of things to see!