Centaur Theatre Company‘s “Brave New Looks” selection for the 2016-17 season, CHLORINE marks creature/creature’s inaugural production and the performance unit’s Artistic Director Johanna Nutter‘s directorial debut (read our recent in-depth interview with her here). Written and choreographed by Florence Longpré and Nicolas Michon and translated by Nutter herself, the original production was first presented to local audiences at the Théâtre La Licorne as “Chlore” in 2012 and now makes its Montreal English language premiere at the Centaur from October 19th to 29th, 2016.
A heart-rending coming-of-age story set in the ’80s based on true events, Chlorine delves into the dark but inwardly vivacious world of Sarah, an externally lifeless eighteen-year-old woman who has spent the last ten years of her youth paralyzed from limb to limb. Played in agonizing silence by a poignant Catherine Lemieux, Sarah’s tetraplegia is the catastrophic result of a bullying incident that occurred precisely a decade earlier when she was forced to swallow chlorine by two young boys bothered by her Sound–of–Music-singing “lardass”. The chemical poisoning left her chair-ridden and sidelined from society – and, most grievously, destitute of her dreams.
Sarah’s overprotective parents (played by Brian Wright and Linda Smith) are left to tend for the crippled teen in the aftermath of the tragedy, shielding her from the perils of the world and proceeding to treat her as if the passage of time did not apply to her. They cater to her visibly apparent basic needs, but remain oblivious as to what her all-consuming private ones might be. Their love towards her is indisputable… but neither is their underlying resentment or remorse, for their hopes too have been paralyzed in the wake of their daughter’s dreadful fate.
When the husband-wife team of caregivers one day catch their drunken next-door-neighbour urinating on the lawn of their humble Eastern Townships home, they decide to punish the ill-behaved and ignorant Nathan (played by Augustus Rivers) by forcing him to make weekly visits to their daughter, injecting her solitary existence with a fresh dose of much-needed youthful company. The two former schoolmates remeet for the first time after nearly a decade, and what begins with Nathan’s morbid fascination with Sarah’s condition progresses to an affectionate relationship between the unlikely pair.
With the blink or two of the eye as her only means of expression, Sarah’s narrative is told through the chatty and cheeky Nathan who, during his penance-paying visitations, often bursts into monologues describing his adventures and experiences as, well, a normal and fully functional human being. Her graceful stillness in contrast to his brash, attention-seeking demeanour summons some profound moments of self-examination, those of which ask us to make an honest estimation of our own speaking/listening ratio. How much of what others want to give are we really interested and open to receiving? In a social media-driven day and age chock-full of “look at me!” pleas, you relish the humility of Sarah’s being and yearn for even just a hint of its simplicity.
Further revealing the quiet observer’s innermost thoughts and emotions on stage are three ballerinas (Catherine Gonthier, Melanie Lebrun, and Erika Morin). They move when and where she cannot, providing a physical representation and creative manifestation of the young woman’s colourful imagination. Through song and dance we learn of Sarah’s buried childhood dreams and unfulfilled adult desires – among them, her artistic ambitions and sexual longings.
While the play’s touch of humour and musicality give a vital joy and lightness to the piece (we’d be thoroughly bawling our eyes otherwise), Chlorine is truly at its best in its most uncomplicated moments. Fortunately, none of the production elements are intrusive (a grateful nod to designers Jody Burkholder, Cathia Pagotto, and Gabriel Lavoie Viau), leaving the beautiful script to stand on its own firm feet.
Sarah’s solitary sittings in the light inspire empathy, certainly, but they also bring to surface a great sense of guilt – guilt derived, perhaps, from the sudden awareness of our own fortunes, from a lack of sensitivity in our daily communications, or from a conscious avoidance of people and problems that we deem to not be of our interest or responsibility. What do we do with those who seemingly no longer provide use to society or fail to even find purpose within themselves? How can we elevate ourselves to a place of inclusion, outreach, and love? Chlorine is a gift, a gentle reminder of the fragility of life, and a most praiseworthy act for providing a voice for those who have none.
Review by Montreal Theatre Hub Editor-in-Chief Camila Fitzgibbon
CHLORINE presented by creature/creature plays at Montreal’s Centaur Theatre (453 Rue Saint-François-Xavier, H2Y 2T1) from October 19 – 29, 2016. Performances are held from Tuesday to Saturday evenings @ 7:30 p.m. with one matinée @ 2:30pm on the 29th.
Approximate running time: 75 min
Talkbacks and experiential sensitization workshops offered on Tuesdays & Fridays post-show
Tickets: $28.00 (regular) | $25.00 (senior, student, QDF, artist) | $15.00 (groups)
Box Office: 514-288-3161 | centaurtheatre.com/brave-new-looks.html