Here are the Fragments is an explorative deep dive into life with schizophrenia
What is it like to live with a mind affected by schizophrenia – a mind gradually colonized by voices, thoughts, and experiences not your own? These are the questions asked by Here are the Fragments, ECT Collective’s fascinating immersive theatre work currently transforming The Theatre Centre. Written by neurologist Suvendrini Lena, it’s inspired by the writing of Frantz Fanon, a French West Indian philosopher and psychiatrist, whose short but vital life and works on decolonization inspired models for both community psychology and political revolution.
With a framework of Fanon’s seminal Black Skin, White Masks, the show takes audience members on the journey of Dr. Chauvet (Allan Louis), an immigrant Black psychiatrist who combats a racist mental health system. Devoted to his work, but facing abuse by fellow professionals and patients alike, he eventually develops psychosis and schizophrenia.
With the voices of Fanon (Peter N. Bailey) and others in his head, he leaves his son Eduard (Kawaku Adu-Poku) as his condition worsens, until an attempt at reconciliation is made years later. Meanwhile, the ghost of Ether (Kyra Harper), an older schizophrenic woman who sees the electricity in all things, haunts him; her concurrent fatal physical illness had gone ignored by a system that focused only on her mental issues.
After an opening that introduces us to Chauvet’s professional background and later deterioration from mental illness, we enter a theatre space transformed into a large, almost warehouse-like expanse. In the vein of other site-specific shows like Sleep No More, the audience is then encouraged to explore the venue, engaging with the art, literature, recordings, and secrets contained therein. One can also follow actors, as flashback fragments from the lives of the characters occur in various locations throughout the hour and forty-five-minute run time.
Here are the Fragments grounds its heavy, philosophical, and important themes by combining issues of colonialism and its effects on the self with a specific human story. The actors, tasked with navigating the unpredictable, distracting space while maintaining complete focus, infuse their characters with curiosity and longing. Despite the wonderful wealth of visual and aural stimulation on offer, these human beings are the show’s soul, and the atmosphere electrifies every time a scene begins.
Louis’ voice and stage presence are mesmerizing, and his ultimate dignity and brilliance through a life that threatens to strip everything away are riveting, turning mental illness from an isolated incident into the everyday. As his son, Adu-Poku has a quieter role, but beautifully portrays his conflicting emotions of abandonment-induced pain and love-induced empathy.
Harper’s Ether, appropriately, floats through the space, occasionally grabbing a microphone to bare her soul in what becomes a wounded sort of unintentional poetry. Incorporating Fanon as one of Chauvet’s mental voices is a compelling choice that helps tie together the show’s commentary on generational and racial trauma, and Bailey’s fiery and measured presence is alternately calming and invigorating.
My guest, a psychology professor who taught nurses for over 40 years, was extremely impressed by the academic accuracy of the content, as well as the actors’ precise portrayal of compressed stages of mental illness that were textbook-correct but not cliché.
Directors Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu and Leah Cherniak (also co-creator) have done a phenomenal job in focusing the sound and visual effects in a way that encourages audience movement towards the important parts of the story, or giving us the ability to hear and see what’s going on via screen even if we’re captivated by another nook or cranny while a scene happens.
At the same time, things unfold in a fluid manner, so that it almost seems like a surprise when you find yourself next to the action, despite the subtle cues that led you there. Designers Trevor Schwellnus (set and video), Shawn Henry (lighting), Nicholas Murphy (sound) and Victoria Wallace (set and props) have outdone themselves in the space, creating a series of jewel-box rooms, each with its own meaning and character.
There’s a room filled with radios, and another with taped testaments. A replica of Fanon’s library, filled with philosophy, and political thought, contrasts sharply with a lonely patient’s last resting place. A set of televisions throw a conversation back and forth, an upper level functions as a combination mind space and pulpit, and a tangle of floor-to-ceiling wires evokes both a forest and the electrical impulses of the brain that dictate who we are and what we do. Ghostly projections of Toronto fill the corridors.
The only downside to the incredible variety of information on display is that there isn’t nearly enough time to fully explore it all – and since it’s simultaneous and constant, FOMO is ever-present. This feeling of missing something, though, effectively adds to the discomfort of the experience.
Much like any journey, you get out of this show what you put into it. The talkbacks and pre-conversations offered by the production are also particularly valuable, delving deeper into the host of issues raised. Here are the Fragments is a powerful experience that deserves to be seen; it’s a chance to slip under a different skin and into a different mind, and to feel the Other in yourself.
- Here are the Fragments plays at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen St. West) until December 1, 2019.
- Show times are Tuesday-Saturday at 8:00 PM, with Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday 2:00 PM matinees.
- Tickets are $22 – $30 and can be purchased online, in person at the Theatre Box Office, or by calling (416) 538-0988
- Audience Advisory: The show features mature themes and stage haze. Audience members move about the space and stand (some seating is provided). Counseling resources are provided at the event.
Photo of Allan Louis by Dahlia Katz