If anyone ever purported that art and science don’t mix, Barbara Newman (MD, MPH) is here to prove them wrong. With her solo show “At the Edge of the World”, Newman writes and performs a nuanced account of her experiences as a doctor overseas. Doctors Without Boredom is the name of her production company and, seemingly, her mantra.
I’ve been fortunate to encounter a few solo shows this Fringe season, and as an admirer of the craft, Newman surprised me with her confidence and sensitivity. It’s a simple show: she walks on stage, the lights come up, and she tells her story. There’s a chair to help, and some minor lighting cues, subtly altering the mood. Nothing extravagant – just her and her words.
As a surgeon, I’m sure Newman has had decades of experience placating her patients with soothing words of reassurance. This lends itself surprisingly well to our setting; her words are calm and measured, there’s thought and intention behind each utterance, and her body moves with purpose and ease. It’s a lovely sight to see such confidence on stage. She is almost surgical in the precision of her movements, each description of events coming alive before our eyes as she gestures and mimes her experiences. Here is someone confident in their ability to say and do what needs to be said and done.
If the story itself is rather dramatic: a small village in Haiti lacks the resources necessary to adequately deal with an overdue labour – Newman’s calm elegance is a reassuring presence. We are along for the ride of her story, and while I never once thought it wouldn’t have a happy ending, I was happy to join her on the journey. This is because she positions herself not as someone who has all the answers, providing the medical know-how that this village has been lacking, but rather as someone who is willing both to learn, and to share her knowledge. Yes, she embodies the roles of her Haitian nurse, Colette, which can be seen as problematic. But she does so to remember her words: “You have no right to ask me to help with this”, when Newman suggests a potentially life-threatening surgery which goes against Haitian customs. Later, when Newman thanks Colette for assisting with the surgery, she responds, as Colette, that she helped not for Newman, but for the baby. There is a sensitivity inherent to Newman’s retelling where she is aware of her position as white saviour, and positions herself intentionally as an observer and listener, even when her own knowledge and actions save the day.
Newman’s assured and measured delivery kept a perfect pace, never dwelling too long on any specific observation or anecdote. By fashioning an entire story around a specific incident, that of the mother having complications with her labour, Newman is able to recontextualize her experiences surrounding that day into little pockets of learning, of listening, and of growing. It is a wonderfully humanistic portrayal of the ways in which connections between cultures and, more specifically, individuals, can be built upon shared trust and understanding. This is a show for those who love a good story and who believe growth is an important part of life.
Review by Montreal Theatre Hub Fringe Contributor Andrew Sawyer
Doctors Without Boredom presents “At the Edge of the World”
When: June 8 – 18, 2017
Where: Black Theatre Workshop Studio, 3680 Jeanne-Mance
Duration: 45 minutes
Tickets: www.montrealfringe.ca | 514.849.FEST (3378)
Official Media Partner of the 2017 St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival