Crash is an emotionally raw and visceral autobiographical story playing at Toronto’s Theatre Passe Muraille
Pamela Mala Sinha’s Crash, currently onstage in the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, takes the audience on a harrowing journey where sadistic rape is ever present, grief and loss loom larger and larger, and spectres of murder and suicide lurk around certain corners. And yet there is a through-line of familial love that keeps hope alive. Also, on a more objective note, there is the pleasure of watching a production where sound, lighting, projection and dance are all seamless and integral aspects of the storytelling.
Sinha speaks from the third person, describing how “the girl” sets up a makeshift altar on a milk crate to honour her Hindu faith in her first apartment. She describes “the girl” and her youth, her dancer mother, statistician father, and beloved younger brother.
It becomes increasingly clear that this distancing technique is required because the character is distanced from herself. She has disassociated – parts of her are now separate, parts of her don’t work properly anymore – due to the damage she’s suffered and the resulting downward spiral of guilt and distrust and self-hatred. Her “I” is no longer intact.
The play jumps between time periods, but in the most present of them her father is dying. The effect of that sorrow on her existing post-traumatic condition, is, I feel, the crux of the meaning of this profoundly moving piece.
What I found particularly impressive was how Sinha managed to emote so much, so sincerely, while also maintaining what must have been fairly strict choreography to stay in concert with the technical aspects. For example, at one point she enacts drawing large scale figures on a back wall, and thick green lines are projected, totally in sync with her hands, as if she had actually drawn them there.
There’s also a crashing sound effect that, in conjunction with lighting, Sinha’s reaction to it, and the information we come to learn, evoked a very visceral sense of horror that grew harsher each time I heard it.
The Artistic Director’s note in the program states that Crash is at least partially based on Sinha’s real life, which is disturbing. But further examination of the program reveals that her mother was involved in the movement direction and her brother did the sound design. This feels very in keeping with the play; there is still this aspect of a strong familial bond behind the scenes, however horrific those scenes may be.
The movement happens on different levels and spaces created by a stairway-heavy set. Sinha effortlessly fills the space, whether she’s running upstairs, dancing, or just lying in the spot designated as a bed.
The South Asian dancing was a special treat for me; I’ve seen such dancing before but am not familiar with the cultural codification required to understand what the movements symbolized. Sinha tells the audience the myth she is dancing as she dances it, so every motion makes absolute sense, as well as being aesthetically beautiful. She has perfect control over her body, seemingly even over her gorgeous lengths of hair. All parts of her transition gracefully from very deliberate dancing, to wild swirls of panic, to moments of deadly stillness.
Pack your tissues, prepare yourself to go to some very dark places, and go see what Sinha can do.