Whenever I see a new theatre piece, whether spoken or musical, I’m juggling a few balls, responding to
- the work that was composed / written
- the interpretation / direction of that piece
- the performances / acting in the piece
Whatever the play or opera might be about I feel I must try to sort through the achievements on those three fronts.
Vitals is new to me, a one-person show by Rosamund Small exploring the life of a Toronto EMS technician. We’re plunged into the world of near-death and death, attempted suicides and wacky people on the street demanding health-care, with plenty of recognizable local references.
Anna is as darkly deadpan as Bob Newhart while the crazy world goes by, whether it’s hysterically funny or heart-breaking. For seventy minutes she’s the whole show, sometimes tranquil, sometimes frenetic but an intense one-person show.
Yes I chose to say “one-person” rather than “one-woman” after a moment of reflection. Lauren Wolanski portrays Anna clearly as a woman yet I can’t help wondering if the script could work with a man as the lead. Ever notice how men and women work together in the EMS service? how egalitarian it is? No I didn’t notice much that was gendered about the role, and that makes it seem especially accurate, because when I think of it, EMS technicians are meant to be inter-changeable, rather than conspicuously different if they’re male or female. While I think that’s in the play, full marks to Wolanski and director Bryn Kennedy for the authenticity of the representation.
It’s quite dark at times. Kennedy—who is director and spokesperson too—gave us a bit of a cautionary note before the show, with the caveat that while we may wish to step out if it gets too intense, we can’t return if we leave. After seeing the show I see why.
For someone with PTSD Vitals might be rough-sledding.
In theory one has boundaries between one’s work and one’s life. But what if your job is so intense that it haunts your imagination, blurring the lines? Their creation of that ambiguity that’s in the text is what’s so powerful, the sense that the job can be traumatic. It’s not through CGI or hyper-accurate sound design. It’s mostly done by attention to the text and good acting.
What I saw tonight was a preview on a snowy night: yet the theatre was quite full. Vitals is the first full-scale production from Theatre Born Between who describe themselves this way in the program:
“Theatre Born Between is a Toronto-based theatre company interested in creating work that focuses on bringing the inner emotional realities of the play and its characters to the surface – the seen andunseen. Our mission is to create a platform for diverse emerging artists from all communities to explore the boundaries of theatrical practice through a blending of styles, such as movement, verbatim text and fantastical realism.”
Vitals continues at The Commons Theatre until November 25th .