Friday, February 1, 2013

Review: (Toronto) RARE

We are unique!
Young Centre’s RARE is well… rare.
by Dave Ross

There is not a great deal of material written on RARE. The website for the production is rather sparse, as is the information in the program. RARE was a surprise hit and took home a Patron’s Pick at the 2012 Toronto Fringe Festival (our review here). The show is incredibly powerful, as the nine cast members, all with Down Syndrome, discuss their hopes, their dreams, and their fears. The show has a powerful creative team, principally in Canadian playwright Judith Thompson, who co-created the work along with the nine performers. This piece is not easy to assemble, but Thompson and the cast have created a remarkable theatre event. 

one of the most beautiful, touching, and complicated pieces I have ever experienced

RARE is difficult to discuss—there is no story, no plot, nothing to criticize in that regard. There is no set, save folding chairs for the cast. One of the things that makes this piece so difficult to discuss is that it seems to push the boundaries of what I would consider theatre, in all the right ways. Yes, there is a script, yes it was composed and assembled and I’m certain it was workshopped as well. Where the change lies is in the cast. In any other show, we discuss portrayal—was it accurate? Convincing? Jarring? None of these apply to RARE. The performers are themselves, telling their own stories. And this makes it one of the most beautiful, touching, and complicated pieces I have ever experienced. The cast is the show here. All the more remarkable is how Thompson and the cast have created a show that allows the cast to “lift the mask” on Down Syndrome without an ounce of pity, and without a whiff of after-school special. 

This production is delicately assembled, a series of stories in a framework of incidental music and songs. The incidental music is provided by Victoria Carr, who interacts with the cast in loving, meaningful ways during brief periods. Indeed, as a cast member struggled with his line, it was Carr who murmured his single troublesome word and got the performer back on track, without a trace of pity.  One of the performers has a speech impediment, and whenever she would struggle for a word, the nearest cast member would reach out and touch her, offering her support to finish her monologue. 

I have deliberately avoided discussing the stories of RARE here, as they truly must be heard in order to be experienced. None of the performers can be singled out for a particular performance. Rather they must all be lauded for laying themselves bare, and delivering a message that requires courage to voice. RARE quotes several lines from Shakespeare, and so I will do the same here: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” (As You Like It). This is embodied perfectly in RARE.

Theatre like this comes along only once in a blue moon. I’ve heard many a person mention that the venue is awkward to get to. I say no. Grab your parka, grab a scarf, and hop on that streetcar. Find the time to see this show—it’s an hour of your life that will sadden you, delight you, anger you, and in the end, challenge you. 

RARE runs at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until Feb 7, 2013 March 2 March 9. Tickets are available online.

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