The theme of writer/performer Vanessa Smythe’s In Case We Disappear (Hopscotch on the Rocks), playing at the 2015 Toronto Fringe Festival, is the fear of disappearing and the stories we tell ourselves to help us fall asleep at night despite that fear.
Based on bedtime stories shared with her younger brother, it encourages us to focus on the moment, and provides us with a series of these moments. It’s not a play with a formal structure; rather, it’s episodic, and has a sweetly shambolic, coffeehouse feel to it. What the piece lacks in cohesion, it makes up for in smart writing and charm, but I was left with the feeling that it could be even more than the sum of its (very strong) parts.
The show is broken into several “beats,” including moments of imagined connection at a bar that fade away to reality, the potential disappearance of childhood at an eighth grade graduation, the chill of long-disappeared ghosts at Gallipoli, and a fleeting moment with a customer which becomes an unsolved mystery. Ending but never fully resolving, each piece is well-written but ephemeral (which is perhaps part of the point).
Thematically, there would be added strength in linking the pieces more closely together; the premise is a great one, but could frame the show more effectively.
Smythe’s poetry is captivating, and she has a lovely voice. Many of the pieces go from spoken to sung word, in a way that feels less like musical theatre and more like liturgy, where each word is designated with a specific musicality. This heightens the emotional aspect of the piece and lets us experience Smythe’s nervousness, excitement or disappointment more viscerally. She knows when the singing is going to be valuable, and when to transition into speech.
Other transitions, from poem to poem or story to story, are a little less magical. Smythe establishes a rapport with the audience from the outset, self-consciously talking about the weather outside, her rock band dreams, or even her water bottle as asides between pieces. This provides a connection to the viewers, but pushes the connection between the vignettes apart.
It undermines the beauty and power of her stories, which are delivered with startling clarity and conviction, and are enough to draw us in on their own. In her poetry, Smythe displays a very appealing vulnerability, full of humanity. In the asides, the vulnerability is still there, but comes across like she’s apologizing for her presence, for which there’s no need.
There’s plenty of humour here, particularly in the self-aware final section about an unusual, poetic booty call. This wrap-up might leave you with a grin, but also a few tears. It’s a last story in a series of stories, rather than a culmination of the experience, but its message shines through: even loss can be beautiful, because losing something means we had something.
Though I’d hoped for a more tightly-woven show, I’m grateful for the warm and open moments the packed house shared. You should probably get your tickets now, because they will disappear.
- In Case We Disappear is playing until July 11 at the Tarragon Theatre Extraspace. (30 Bridgman Avenue)
- Tickets are $12 in advance, $10 at the door. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by phone (416-966-1062), from the festival box office down Honest Ed’s Alley (581 Bloor West), or from the venue box office starting one hour before the peformance. Venue sales are cash-only.
- Be advised that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and latecomers are never admitted. Set your watch to CBC time, and arrive a few minutes early to avoid disappointment.
July 07 at 10:30 PM
July 08 at 09:15 PM
July 09 at 07:30PM
July 10 at 12:00 PM
(Photo of Vanessa Smythe by Nancy Ribeiro)