The semi-autobiographical tale follows 15-year-old Anna as she struggles to come to terms with her mother’s terminal illness while being plagued by an unrelenting case of head lice and the even more persistent agony associated with teenage existence.
The primary set, designed by Shel Parsons and director Ian Locke, consists of three moveable screens, and stage blocks that are all skillfully maneuvered and manipulated by the focused ensemble to create environments that range from the family automobile, to the school yard, to a mother’s death bed.
The design used on the screens reference the type of sponge painting carried out in the family home by Anna’s “hippie” parents, but the design is abstract enough that it allows the audience to impose their own imagery. I saw an object that was being viewed through a very powerful microscope. Particles of varying sizes and shapes, some vibrating in place and others shooting off in all directions, destined to carry on until inevitably encountering another body, causing both to be forever changed.
Locke utilized his cast in similar fashion as they were on stage for the entirety of the performance, sometimes engaged in dialogue, sometimes physically shifting the environment, creating space and taking it away, and sometimes simply vibrating in place, watching, waiting for the next collision. This is a complex form of choreography and Locke shows he has a strong grasp on managing the logistical challenges of creating scenes using simple staging components while conveying the required emotion and intensity of each scene.
In one moment, Anna remembers a therapist encouraging her to breathe. As this unfolds, the other actors create the sound of the breath and as they inhale and exhale they inch ever closer around Anna. Simple use of group sound and movement allow the audience to feel what Anna is feeling; her world is closing in on her.
The cast is rock solid and well-rehearsed. Each character deals with their grief and fear in different ways.
Anna, played by Sarah Connors, is an actor to watch. The character, based on the playwright, is arguably the easiest character to dislike. She moves away as her mother moves closer to death. She is focused on indestructible lice, perfect-fitting jeans, and her burgeoning sexual desires. Anything that allows her to evade her true reality.
But Connors doesn’t play her as a “type.” She offers a complex portrayal of a young person trying to avoid a collision that is unavoidable.
In an early scene, when mom and dad are picking the lice from Anna’s head, we first get the hint that something is wrong with Anna’s mother. There is a tension between the couple. For a moment, as they argue, Anna’s hand moves to her hair and mimics her parent’s movement. An unconscious gesture of a child who desperately wants to make things right, but doesn’t know how.
Una Hill-McMullin is one of the finest performers currently treading the boards in this province. Her nuanced portrayal of Anna’s best friend and rival, Madelyn, inextricably connected to Anna’s mother, is as desperate to feel and connect with the dying woman as Anna is to avoid it all. They complement one another beautifully.
The entire cast adds colour and vibrancy to the tale, always present and always waiting for the next unavoidable collision.
A provocative and thought-provoking night of theatre.