Content Warning: this piece discusses sexual assault
Jennifer Martin’s one-woman show Everything Is Fine begins by disorienting you. Martin opens the show with a short musing on doors; wanting to open them, wanting to be inside or outside or somewhere else. Then she’s in a diner, staring at a familiar face she’s known her whole life. Then she’s a pre-teen, getting her period and learning about sex from a health class video. At first I felt like I was missing something; did we just jump between three different time periods? Three different scenes? But then I realized this is the way Martin tells her story. The show is based on Martin’s own experience of being sexually assaulted as a teen; with a stream of consciousness-like fluidity and always speaking in present tense, Martin moves between vignettes of her life, guiding the audience through the adolescent trauma and toward something that is not recovery, but might resemble it.
After the opening, the rest of the show is mostly chronological; we follow Martin’s narrator up to the sexual assault and then learn how this experience shapes her growth as a young woman in Toronto and then Vancouver. Though the assault is the focal point of the story, really the whole play is linked thematically by the narrator’s interactions with men, from when she has her first kiss as a kid to when she is betrayed by her fiancé as an adult. In this way, the show is an examination of the ways in which we are taught to manage ourselves around men; the ways in which we learn to adjust ourselves under their gaze. Martin describes walking home in Toronto and feeling that a man is following her; she pulls out her keys and puts them between her fingers in case she needs to fight back, but it turns out the man just lives in her building. He apologizes for scaring her.
The material is tough; the description of the assault is unflinching and deeply disturbing. Martin grounds her painful story in expertly drawn details; a kiss feels like making out with a dog, a tongue like a piece of dead meat. She carefully paints the different landscapes of her life – the old streets of Quebec City, the apartment buildings of Toronto. At times, though, I felt myself wanting to learn more about our narrator outside of her interactions with men; her parents and grandmother are background presences, but the show could make space for more time with the other relationships in her life.
Martin tells the story with skill, clearly distinguishing the innocence of youth from the knowledge of adulthood, while also maintaining a storyteller’s presence throughout. She is always the girl in her story and always the woman sharing her story. Her performance has an easy gravitas, a calming clarity. And she can be very funny; she has the whole crowd laughing when describing her relief at not getting married. There’s no easy resolution at the end of the piece – after all, trauma can’t just be fixed. But, as Martin shows us, you learn to cope, and maybe to heal. Everything is Fine is about the way trauma changes you and the ways you keep going, the ways you keep telling your story.
“WHO IT’S FOR”
Storytelling aficionados and Fringe-goers looking for heartfelt explorations of trauma, patriarchy, and hope. This is a very tough story to hear, but a powerful one.
Belladonna Productions presents “Everything is Fine”
at the 29th St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival
Performances: June 9 – 16, 2019
Venue: 02 – Petit Campus
57 Prince-Arthur E., Montréal, H2X 1B47
Admission: $8 – 10 | Ages 18+
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from this year’s fest on our Fringe page!