The cast of This Stays in the Room. (photo from horseshoesandhandgrenades.ca)
Baring one’s soul is always difficult. Imagine how it would be to share your angst and pain with a room full of strangers. This is exactly what four brave actors undertake in the world première of This Stays in the Room.
Horseshoes and Hand Grenades Theatre has partnered with PTC and Radix Theatre to bring this innovative mix of text, song, photography, video projections and choreography to the Downtown Eastside’s Gallery Gachet.
The company, as its press material states, “is a provocative and political group who are not content with holding a mirror up to society – they would rather conduct an autopsy on it.” This is the company’s first site-specific production and, by using a gallery venue, the audience is invited into a non-theatre space, removing the main barrier between the audience and the performers. To allow this intersection of theatre and visual art, the production set will remain as an installation during the run of the play for the general public to explore. The gallery is a collectively run space whose mandate is to encourage dialogue and promote social and economic justice.
The setting is intimate, rows of chairs on either side of a corridor with four decorated ones within the audience for the cast. The actors appear, two men, two women, each carrying a basket full of props. They sit among the viewers – you can reach out and touch them – and, one at a time, tell all. Four stories, four people, all very different and yet, in some strange way, hauntingly similar. An intense one hour takes you through the actors’ personal journeys, from trauma to the triumph of acceptance and forgiveness.
Part of the experience is the actors’ self-description as they draw themselves on a blackboard. Something visceral happens watching these four draw images of themselves on the board. They start off with simple stick people and then add layer upon layer of shape, form and color as they pictorially lay out their self-perceptions. The sound of the chalk scratching against the board picks up speed as they reach their finished images.
We meet Allan Morgan, 59 years old, gay, grappling with his sexuality and society’s homophobia, who puts a pink triangle over his face – he tells of his shame as a “chubby little boy” and his first homosexual experience. Then there is 30ish Robert Salvador, alcoholic, full of guilt over cheating on his wife and small daughter: he shares the story about a sex-free summer game he and his pals played in his teens, where falling off the wagon brought the punishment of being pelted with raw eggs. Next up, petite Manami Hara watching her elderly father deteriorate mentally and physically, feeling she abandoned him in his time of need, and, finally, pregnant Alexa Devine, harried mother of two, abused as a child.
Added to the mix are three stories of members of the creative team, whose talking heads are projected onto white lanterns hanging from the ceiling and the blackboards on either side of the audience. The poignancy and emotion of the disclosures are almost overwhelming at times. This is raw, in your face, reality theatre. It resonates with the audience because we have all been there, done that, and understand the feelings so openly expressed by this talented cast. At the end of the show, the faces of all of the audience members are projected onto the walls of the tiny room, each in a little circle – a reminder that we are all one.
With sound design by Noah Drew (whose Tiny Music was part of this year’s Chutzpah! Festival), lighting design by Andreas Kahre, video projection design by Cande Andrade and choreography by Amber Funk Barton, this multi-media mix comes together under the steady hand of director Mindy Parfitt.
This show is not for all: it is not a feel good, laugh-out-loud production but, as Parfitt notes, “It’s really about how we as individuals face the challenges in our lives, how we move forward and find some kind of forgiveness with ourselves and others.”
This Stays in the Room runs to March 30. Due to the adult content and language, it is not suitable for anyone under 18.
Gallery Gachet is located at 88 East Cordova St. Seating is limited. More information can be found at 604-729-5395 and horseshoesandhandgrenades.ca.
Tova Kornfeld is a Vancouver freelance writer and lawyer.