BLiNK at Soulpepper Theatre (LuminaTO)


A few months ago I remember seeing an image of two men, one stood menacingly over the other. He had a big rock in his hands and his arms were wound-back over his shoulders as if he were about to smash the other man’s head. After attending BLiNK, this image came back to me. I wondered about how that photo, taken in Kenya at the peak of recent violence, affected its photographer.

BLiNK is a new collective creation by the Soulpepper Academy about photojournalism presented as part of LuminaTO. Its narrative touches on the mechanics of the business, the blurry relationship between military forces and photographers (ostensibly during the American invasion of Iraq), the morally ambiguous exploitative relationship between subject and photographer (especially when the subject is a civilian in a war zone), and most significantly, on the emotional impact of the job.

This may sound like a lot to handle for a show that’s only an hour long, but afterward my friend and I found we were almost immediately talking about how efficient the staging was. The set design (by Lorenzo Savoini) makes the reality of the characters clear. At the same time, while you know where the action in the world of the play is happening, the different environments (ranging from the domestic to exotic) overlap just enough to suggest the surreal.

One thing my friend and I got really lost in was the story. We went in with the expectation of watching a straight narrative. But after about fifteen-minutes – seeing how quickly BLiNK moves in time (both backwards and forwards), how articulate its characters are both emotionally and intellectually, and how widely it intended to cast its geographical net – I dropped my first expectation and just went with what I saw.

Looking back on the narrative, I’m not sure the Soulpepper Academy was really trying to tell us a story about photojournalism as much as instruct us about the moral and psychic problems for anyone observing a war first-hand.

Clearly there is a lot of guilt, frustration, feelings of depression and ultimately a moral need for photojournalism in the world of BLiNK. The lead character Joshua (played by Mike Ross) comes across as really going through an inner-turmoil of all these emotions. Joshua doesn’t allow himself to succumb fully to any one of these feelings though. So many emotions mean that there can be no clean resolution, no magic bullet answer.

The decision to show the full despair of its lead, without the conventional limitations of a plot, is commendable. I was struck by the intensity of emotions, the feeling that war is a unique compounding force of emotions.

Between the imaginative sound design (by Robert Perrault), use of projected media (credits belong to Rita Leistner and Gavin Fearon) and the talented ensemble, BLiNK is an entertaining, provocatively engaging work.

BLiNK at the Tank House in the Young Theatre for the Performing Arts. Young Centre for the Performing Arts (in the Distillery District)
– Runs June 13 at 8:30 and June 14 and 15 at 2:30 and 8:30
– Tickets are $25, call 416-866-8666 for more information

Photo of Mike Ross by Cylla von Tiedmann