Review: we are not afraid of the dark (The Theatre Centre)

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we are not afraid of the dark Explores Life, Death, Purpose and Meaning at The Theatre Centre

we are not afraid of the dark, playing at The Theatre Centre in Toronto, is billed as an “intensely intimate one-woman/two-ghost show”. The show is based on a series of conversations between the late actor Tracy Wright and Belgian theatre director Tine Van Aerschot, while Wright was battling cancer.

As in any one-man or one-woman show, it’s left to the performer to bring the piece to life. In this particular case, that job was left to Valerie Buhagiar, who has been a mainstay in Canadian theatre, film and television over the past several decades. Buhagiar was an excellent choice for this show.

we are not afraid of the dark begins, fittingly, with the room in absolute pitch black. But Buhagiar’s rich, resonant voice fills the space perfectly, enabling the audience to feel at home in the darkness. The openness and honesty of her performance allow her to share Wright’s words without coming across as preachy or dramatic. (I can’t help but feel like most of her “slip-ups” were planned to achieve this “honest” effect, but it did work.)

And a show about darkness wouldn’t be complete without a little light. The “set” is made up of several bright white lamp stands, covered by white plastic shopping bags, designed by Luc Schaltin of Kaaitheater in Brussels. I spent a long time trying to figure out the significance of the lamps – do they represent lives? How is Buhagiar deciding where to place them? And why plastic bags, of all things?

I couldn’t come to any real conclusions on that front – but maybe they’re meant to support the show’s discussion of the finality of birth and death. (Once a light is turned on, it stays on until it is turned off permanently at the end of the show). Whatever they mean, the lamps created a beautiful picture, blazing through the darkness of the room.

That being said, I don’t think I “got” we are not afraid of the dark. I know that shows don’t need to have a moral or message. Nor do they need to follow traditional dramatic structures. Of course not. But the show essentially consisted of Buhagiar alternating between sharing Wright’s and Van Aerschot’s thoughts about death, and sharing somewhat folksy third-party anecdotes about life and death.

Like I said, she did a great job with the material. But the material itself didn’t give me anything concrete to react to. None of the stories were related other than having some sort of connection to the theme of “death”. An anecdote would end, and even though I enjoyed a lot of them, I’d sort of be left anchorless, waiting for the next loosely related story. My plus one said it was like sitting in your friend’s kitchen, discussing mortality, telling each other random stories.

Still, the show gave me a lot to think about, which is what all good art should do. Some might say it’d be better billed as a “performance piece” rather than a show. But if you have the chance to catch the final few shows, and are a fan of thought-provoking theatre, you really can’t go wrong with seeing we are not afraid of the dark.

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Photo of Valerie Buhagiar by Jim Miller.