Review: The Sound of Cracking Bones (Pleiades Theatre with Theatre Passe Muraille)

Pleiades Theatre presents the award-winning Sound of Cracking BonesĀ on stage at the Passe Muraille in Toronto

I was drawn to see The Sound of Cracking Bones, a play presented by Pleiades Theatre with the support of the Theatre Passe Muraille, for various reasons — the subject matter of the liberation of child soldiers spoke to me as both a journalist and a humanitarian and simply the very visceral and guttural nature of the title itself. I have a strong appreciation for theatre with heavy subject matter and significant points of view — I want to experience these performances and leave feeling equally strong emotions be them enlightened or pained or angered.

After the performance I left the theatre speechless feeling all those things and more.

Harveen Sandhu plays 13-year-old Elikia, a child soldier ripped away from her home and family three years prior in order to serve in the rebel army as a soldier. When 8-year-old Joseph (Caity Quinn) is also captured and brought to the camp, Elikia sees in him her own younger brother and knows that he would ultimately face the same fate as her. The performance begins with Elikia escaping the rebel camp with Joseph by her side in search of freedom and safety. Patricia Cano plays Angelina, a nurse who offers salvation for the two refugees and takes them under her care. Angelina has Elikia’s notebook, where she penned her ordeals, and reads passages in her testimony before a commission examining the ‘problem’ with child soldiers.

The performance is only 70 minutes long, with three actors using very few props on a fairly minimal stage but the world they are able to create and the story they are able to tell is incredible. The story begins with Elikia and Joseph’s escape from the rebel camp and through shifting points of view, you see into their world — a world of constant fear, starvation, exhaustion, and desperation as they spend weeks following the river in hopes that it will lead to freedom. Intersecting their story is Angelina speaking to the commission with Elikia’s notebook in hand. The passages she reads delves deeper into Elikia’s life before her capture into the camp and the cut-throat tactics she had to pick up fast in order to survive.

Each of the performances were outstanding but I was particularly blown away by Sandhu’s portrayal of Elikia — she’s a stone-cold soldier who’s only comfort lies in having her Kalashnikov at her side: through it she gains fear, respect and power; without it she’d be lost. Her performance is intricately multifaceted as her interactions with Quinn shows her harsh yet nurturing and then at the conclusion Sandhu’s vulnerability is palpable.

Discussing the performance after the show with my theatre partner and fellow writer Vance, we both found very few things about the production to quibble about except one thing: when Angelina is addressing the commission she often times interrupted herself as if fielding questions from the commission, frustrating questions as if they were actively dismissing her story. Vance felt that the way Angelina looked into the crowd when she spoke felt like the commission she was addressing was the audience itself and there was a deep connection being forged through this interaction. The interruptions from an invisible external commission took away from that. I, however, felt that the questions she was fielding added to her story, which is also Elikia’s story, and gave credence to the uphill battle Angelina was facing.

All in all, the descriptive writing is a complete winner. Suzanne Lebeau did fantastic work writing The Sound of Cracking Bones and seeing it makes it clear why it picked up as many prestigious awards as it did. Lebeau has a background in writing plays specifically for a young audience with The Sound of Cracking Bones being her first play written for adults and I believe this is why her writing for Elikia and Joseph rings with reality and truth and never comes off as patronizing or condescending.

The Sound of Cracking Bones is a bilingual presentation with French performances running from March 3 to 7. The photo exhibit Child Soldiers: forced to be Cruel is also presented on the second floor balcony lobby. The photo exhibit is definitely worth sticking around after the show to see as the photos are just as captivating and breathtaking as the performance. Both should not be missed.

Details:

  • The Sound of Cracking Bones is playing at the Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson Ave) until February 28 in English and from March 3 – 7 in French.
  • Performances run Wednesday to Saturday at 7:30 pm.
  • Tickets are $38 for general admission, $33 for seniors and arts workers, and $17 for those under 30. Group rates are available for 10 people or more.
  • Tickets can be purchased online or by callingĀ 416 504 7529.

Photo of Harveen Sandhu and Caity Quinn by Cylla von Tiedemann.

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