2019 Next Stage Theatre Festival Review: Cannibal (Scrap Paper Theatre)

In this new drama by Scrap Paper Theatre, Cannibal is a metaphor — barely. This is a visceral piece that captures the ugly side of fear, loss, and love with surgical precision, and the anesthesia we are given is fleeting. It performs at the Next Stage Theatre Festival, filling a modest studio setup with a staggering cocktail of emotions.

Following the abduction of her son, writer Bridget pens a play about the incident as a means to process her grief. While it garners rave reviews, her loved ones are left to grapple with the ongoing fallout. What makes this show particularly intriguing is that it’s not a play within a play, nor even a play about a play. The performance we watch is the behind-the-scenes reality of both a work of creative passion and the emotional trauma that motivated it.

Justine Christensen commands the stage as Bridget, attempting to rebuild her life through the depths of her sorrow and anger. Her performance is unyielding, simultaneously in the throes of emotional agony while still calculating her every move. Of course, playwright Thom Nyuus gives her — and us — a lot to chew on, with not a single punch pulled even to the show’s bittersweet end.

This is a story about how terrible people can be to each other, and how we endure through the worst that life can throw us. Although every character is deeply flawed, we’re never quite compelled to take anyone’s side for very long. Secrets and manipulations emerge like volcanic lava, violently burning up the things we knew, or thought we knew. The terror of what these characters endure is bigger than the play itself, but some things in life are better talked about than shown, even and especially on the stage. The emotional reactions of the cast and the evocative imagery of the script give us the exact right amount of macabre.

Staging and how the cast of four move through this world also deserve mention. The stage is never empty for long, the majority of scene transitions occurring in front of us with cast changing costume and moving set pieces in plain view. This not only cleverly marks the passage of time, but give us non-verbal cues about how these people transform, and what they feel. It is brutally intimate, with every word and motion we’re privy to delivered with deliberate thought.

Cannibal is about terrifyingly sympathetic people in unimaginable circumstances, and if you can make it to curtain in one piece, it might even compel you to take a look at yourself and what you’ve done to survive.

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Photo of Justine Christensen provided by the company

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