Jackie’s Not A Real Girl (running at Theatre Passe Muraille as part of SummerWorks) is just about as dark as dark can be; almost a sort of torture porn, carried out live on stage. But Nicki Ward’s script doesn’t deal with things that lurk in shadows, or in tiny rural villages, or malevolent forces from beyond the veil. Her horrors are real: they dwell in the sunlight; they live in our neighbourhoods; they walk among us.
The plot of this show must be seen to be understood. But in short form, Sadie–a charismatic bartender and a survivor by nature–mourns the death of a dear friend, Jackie. Jackie hasn’t actually died, mind you–it’s much worse than that. Jackie’s been snuffed out. Her humanity, identity, realness have been completely stripped away, leaving only a physical shell behind. So Sadie walks us back to the very beginning, and together we journey through Jackie’s ongoing trauma. It’s not a pretty sight, but this story must be told.
Ward–in collaboration with director Gein Wong—refuses to let the audience pity these women, and it’s a damn good thing. Sadie and Jackie aren’t victims of circumstance or wayward souls fallen from grace; these women are fully-realized human beings, and should not be confused with innocents. The frank treatment of sexuality, drug and substance use, of sex work, and of the realities of trans life not only serve to underscore the urgency of the situation, they also draw our attention to the real message of this play: nobody–nobody–deserves to be treated like this. It shouldn’t matter that Sadie’s eyes are quick to flash with vengeance and wrath; that the authority figures were well-meaning, good-hearted people; that Jackie had a bit of a meth habit. These situations are outrageous regardless of the precise circumstances.
With a play as political and personal as this, performance is almost a secondary factor–but Nicki Ward is more than equal to the task. She switches eagerly and effectively between characters: her country-doctor obstetrician was impressive, and I was charmed by the Miss Jean Brodie-ish schoolmarm, but the most compelling of the lot is–luckily–Sadie herself, a virago of the Dorothy Parker model, all gallows humour and wordplay. The script, also by Ward, adopts a higgledy-piggledly rhyming scheme, which provides the considerable bonus of making it tremendously easy to manipulate the pace of the text in order to really drive her points home.
There are some weak points; indiscreetly, the show could be cut by about 20 minutes without losing anything catastrophic. While I enjoyed Lynn Phillips’ guitar, having to compete with an amplifier to be heard seemed to pose more of a challenge than Ward may have anticipated.
But this isn’t a play to be enjoyed; this is a play to feel, a play to understand, a play to be disquieted by, and–hopefully–a play to drive you to action. Whether this entices or frightens you away will be, of course, in the eye of the beholder.
- Jackie’s Not A Real Girl plays through August 17th, 2013 at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace. (16 Ryerson Ave.)
- All tickets $15. Money-saving passes are available. For more information, and to order online, see website.
- Remaining performances: Saturday August 10, 6:00 pm; Sunday August 11, 1:00 pm; Monday August 12, 3:30 pm; Wednesday August 14, 8:30 pm; Thursday August 15, 6:00 pm; Saturday August 17, 3:30 pm.
Photograph of Nichola “Nicki” Ward by Julia Fice.