Strangers, Babies

This is for any of you in Toronto. Had the nice surprise of an exciting evening of theatre Tuesday night when I thought I was being taken to something quite different. We saw Linda McLean’s “Strangers, Babies”. It plays at Artscape’s Sandbox (301 Adelaide W) thru May 28. It’s a shortish, five-act play with no intermission. In Theatre Panik’s production, each act is played in a different area of a single gallery, and the audience moves around with the players, generally standing though there are benches to relieve tired feet. Had I any advanced notice what I’d be seeing I might have declined, assuming it would be too gimmicky.  The gimmick is powerful!  The protagonist, May, has successive conversations –one per act- with her husband in their condo, her father in a hospice, a hook-up in a hotel, a lost brother and finally a social worker. She is, very evidently, from the start, troubled and well meaning. Suspense has at least as much to do with filling in the back story as discovering outcomes as the action advances. There is what seems to me (perhaps reflecting my ignorance of such matters) a reverse dramatic irony. Instead of wanting to jump on stage to tell Romeo not to do that because you know and he doesn’t . . . you are physically already on the stage, in intimate proximity with the actors and you want to keep your mouth shut because their characters know something you don’t.  As this reverberates with the characters’ stress about connecting, it is not an irrelevant framework.  The characters, even when distraught or obsessive, retain access to adroit language, surprising turns of thought, big vocabularies. The language, aside from being enjoyable, makes you feel the presence of real other minds. The five guys are really good. Niki Landau, who is also a co-director of the little company, playing May, creates 85 minutes of continuity, touching and humane, earns your total sympathy—pure virtuosity.

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