You can smell the onions and taste the fear
by David C. Jones
Balm in Gilead was written in 1965; it concerns a dangerous romance between a naïve new girl in the city and the part time ruffian trying to get out. It all takes place in a café populated by prostitutes, addicts and petty criminals.
There is even a death in both plays that has little impact on most of the other characters.
Like his play Rimers of Eldritch that was about country folk (recently staged locally by Fighting Chance Productions), characters talk through each other and over each other, there is a stranger in town, the dialogue is circular - demonstrating that even though people talk about change they don’t. There is even a death in both plays that has little impact on most of the other characters.
There is also Bible-inspired music in both and pulsing energy and chaos that really capture a slice of life in an ‘amalgam of realism and theatrical illusion’.
They don’t interact with audience members though, you are literally a fly on the wall or in the case of this diner – a cockroach on the wall.
it’s the actors that really make it sing
While the staging is very clever – nothing like having a fight or two break out and having one assailant come hurtling towards your table – it’s the actors that really make it sing.
This production features many of the fifth and sixth term students who were just in the musical Spring Awakening. How remarkable it is to see so many of them so completely transform themselves in this show. Two standouts were Patrick Mercado as Dopey, one of the ‘guides’ in the show, and once again Stephanie Izack, magnetic as the drug addled prostitute. Both were gritty, real and with the nonchalance of an expected survivor.
We also get to meet in the second show of the term, the fourth year students. Blasting out of the gate with an impressive performance was Chirag Naik as another ‘guide’, Fick – twitchy but happy, this drug addict was clearly not long for the world. Julie Leung as Babe also captures the desperate sadness and drive of a brazen junkie. We are told, “junkies never fall off their stools, they teeter but don’t fall, drunks fall.”
But that is a blip in a truly unique night out; a chance to see young actors portray people we wonder about. We don’t learn anything new but we do develop empathy to see them so up close and that can be transformative.