Review: After the Blackout (Soulpepper and RARE theatre company)

Melanie Lepp in a red robe holding a hockey stickAfter the Blackout is “powerful”, “vulnerable”, and “poignant”, on stage in Toronto

Regardless of everything else that happens in the play, the ending is what makes the point.

After the Blackout, playing at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, is not a typical theatrical story. I say that beyond the fact that the stories are all about people with disabilities, and played by actors with those disabilities. The note by Judith Thompson, who wrote and directed After the Blackout, talks about how the goal of the play was to write a complex story in which the disabilities of the cast were facts, not features. That succeeded beyond measure, but it too is not why this isn’t a typical theatrical production. This story is a-typical because it’s a difficult story, not just in what it is saying but in how it is being said.

Ostensibly After the Blackout is about the interweaving of the lives of all the characters, with them telling stories in flashbacks about how they all ended tangled up together in this cozy little cabin by the water. Interspersed between the warm and happy vignettes are a lot stronger, harder, and darker scenes where the characters talk about how they met. Watching this, I let myself set up some expectations for what was going to come out of this play. I was very wrong, and the play set me up perfectly.

The first thing I noticed was that the stories don’t seem to add up, there’s something that’s missing. The warmth and sharing that happens between the ensemble in the cabin does not mesh well with the flashbacks. I felt that they were going off in different directions, and they were … and that’s the point. I was uncomfortable, wondering where this was ultimately going to go.

It’s not a bad feeling, but at first I was wondering if there was just something that I was missing. Something that I just didn’t pick up on. The play does a fantastic job of engendering that feeling in little ways. When Catherine Joell Mackinnon and Tamyka Bullen have a conversation in ASL with no subtitles for most of it, I understand that there’s a level that I’m not getting and I’m wondering if this isn’t for me. Not as in like it’s not something I can be a part of, but because it’s in a language I don’t speak. I could understand what was going on, but the specifics weren’t as important for my understanding, and there were probably layers that I didn’t get but I don’t think those layers were for me. When Thompson felt it was important subtitles were provided to the audience. This is some of the ways I feel the play disrupted the “expected story” of how it played with my expectations.

For me the highlight performances for me were Mary Beth Rubens who had so many moments where I felt that I didn’t exist since she was so in the moment in the scene. I felt her vulnerability, and her anger, and her frustration in every flashback scene. The scene between Bullen and MacKinnon was such an emotionally painful scene filled with vulnerability, anger, and sadness. Prince Amponsah’s presence was powerful and poignant in every single one of his scenes.

This is not a simple, or easy play. Each flashback scene involves people trying to open up and be vulnerable and every time being denied and hurt. Then just when I felt it was too much I was soothed with a pleasant campfire scene between all of the characters, having a laugh at the strange coincidence that led them together. That’s another way the play kept me off balance, there are plenty of genuinely funny moments during the play. Moments where I was chuckling at what was going on. How that feeling made me believe that After the Blackout was going towards a great big happy ending, where everyone gets along and all these strange coincidences would led up to a reunification, everyone returning whole despite the strange and dark circumstances that surround them.

But the ending makes sense of it all, and how we don’t get those happy endings.

And that’s the point.

Details:

  • After the Blackout is playing at The Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane) until May 26, 2018.
  • Shows run Monday through Saturday at 8:00 pm with an extra 2:00 pm matinee on Saturday.
  • Tickets are $50 for general admission and $25 for students and OSDP recipients
  • Live ASL interpretation is available on May 18, 23, and 25 at 8:00 pm and May 19 at 2:00 pm
  • Live Audio Description for the visually impaired is available on May 19, and 24 at 8:00 pm and May 26 at 2:00 pm. Please call the Box Office to reserve your radio earpiece.
  • Tickets can be purchased online, by calling the box office at 416-866-8666, or in person at the box office.

Photo of Melanie Lepp by Elias Campbell 

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