Walk into the Annex Theatre’s Total Verruckt! and one thing will instantly strike you. Ropes. Tons of them. And fishing wire. And pulleys. They hang from the wide space between the balconies, stairs, and stage. Joanna Caplan has created a performance piece using ropes and pulleys that is based on the stories of Jewish performers and personalities that were murdered in the Holocaust.
The Westerbork concentration camp in this story is one you don’t hear a lot about. It was considered an in-between camp but there were permanent culturally elite campers that were encouraged to create a sense of normalcy here by way of activities. Many well-known performers ended up at the camp and staged shows and cabarets before being sent to the death camps. The last performance was called “Total Verruckt!”.
The staging is ambitious and largely effective. Using her feet to clap train tracks back and forth, she manages to create the sound of a train while she waits for it, which is hard to describe in the body of this review but please know, it is an incredible effect. A cane is attached to a fishing wire and as it moves, a hat and beard float down to create the character of Max. At least I think it was Max, I found the characters hard to differentiate.
Caplan has managed to stage each of the characters with different wardrobe and rope work but unfortunately it is the actual characterizations where I felt more work was needed. Each character had the same tone and the same voice – no amount of rope and wigs makes a difference if the true meat of a character hasn’t yet been found. This may be a very intentional choice, it is hard to say. But for me, I found it hard to follow the narrative and since it has the potential to be so moving and interesting, I sorely wanted to.
It is a movement theatre piece for sure – it may even fall into more of a performance art category – and Caplan does the best to physicalize the emotion of the show. She has a beautiful tattoo on her leg but I personally found it to upstage her quite a bit. I found it hard to believe she is a holocaust victim of the 1940s with an inked vine wrapped around her shin.
It is fascinating subject material and Caplan has done much work researching the shows of the camp and the stories as well as what has been written about these real people. I know this because there is a talk back at the end of the show. I found this to be an incredibly smart and endearing choice.
She explains that although she has been working on the piece for over a year, it is a work in progress and far from done. I really liked that she did this. It allowed the audience to know that they are watching a work in progress and the fringe has certainly been the right venue for other companies to try new material.
Some cool information came out in the talk back – research that she found that hadn’t yet materialized in the show. A patron offered that she grew up in Holland down the road from Westerbork and that it was used as housing for Indonesian refugees and later dismantled. A neighbour bought the wood and made a barn from it.
I would suggest that it might be time to find a director. She said that she spent 5 months with a residency at a theatre company (listed as Double Edge Theatre in the program) saying the same line over and over without any other dialogue. Since she is looking for feedback, maybe a director would save her some time. She has obviously done a ton of work in the physicality department and it is impressive.
Perhaps approaching some of the story from the character rather than the physical would be the next step. Joanna seems really keen to use the festival as a growing experience. She clearly has the drive and passion to take her work from progressive to phenomenal.
Total Verruckt! plays at The Annex Theatre, 736 Bathurst Street (at the Randolph Academy for the Performing Arts)
Cast: Joanna Caplan
Genre: Drama, Physical Theatre
Venue 4 Annex Theatre
Tue, July 12 3:00 PM
Wed, July 13 1:45 PM
Thu, July 14 7:30 PM
Sat, July 16 9:45 PM
– All individual Fringe tickets are $10 ($5 for FringeKids) at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at www.fringetoronto.com, by phone at 416-966-1062, in person at The Randolph Centre for the Arts, 736 Bathurst Street (Advance tickets are $11 – $10+$1 convenience fee)
– Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 5 shows