Friday, October 18, 2013

Review: (Toronto) The List

A Tragic Exploration of Motherhood and Survival  
by Spencer Malthouse

This play is not about being a good mother. This play is about the toll motherhood exacts on a woman. With children, “love is so easy,” but life is so hard. No Exit’s production of The List by Jennifer Tremblay is a seamlessly cinematic portrayal of a woman suffocating. This one-woman play explores motherhood through profound tragedy. 

The woman (Torri Higginson) claims responsibility for the death of her friend, Caroline – her one ally in this stifling village of nosy bitches. I admit that in the beginning I understood the woman’s motives as malicious. We learn that she hates living in the country, that she finds life with her three young sons stifling, that she can only cope by obsessively making lists of chores, and that she can’t always muster up the strength to tolerate Caroline’s insidiously saccharine knocks at her door.
And yet this is a motiveless crime. The tragedy is captured in the two mothers’ different interpretations of grief. The woman isolates herself from her friends and even from her husband. Caroline becomes addicted to the easy love of her children. It is interesting that the husbands in this play are mere shadows – almost entirely devoid of character. This play is about women and their children. 

Higginson offers a strong performance, often captivating the audience with movement and voice. She builds complex characters with subtle alterations of her voice. The poor lighting often obscures and pixelates her face, but the power of her voice is constant throughout.

For the hour of the play I felt like I was alone – watching a movie on my laptop in bed. Struggling to breathe along with this one woman. I am generally wary of integrating projection with live theatre but I have never seen a more seamless incorporation. The projection used subtle imagery that only added to the production, endowing Higginson with depth and rarely drawing focus. I commend Director Steph Ouaknine and the production team for delivering a highly polished piece of cinematic synthesis. 

The piece has the ambience of an art instillation. It is set in a strange, run-down, partially constructed building. The only lighting comes from the projector. The music and sound is harmonic and sometimes overpowering. The closeness of the space and the size of the projection completely absorb the audience. The effect conflates warm and cold; one feels alone and yet together with the woman. I left blinking into the night, feeling as though a part of me had been ripped away.  

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