Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Centaur 2016 - Chlorine

Centaur's Brave New Looks Series
October 19 - 29, 2015

Written and choreographed by FLORENCE LONGPRÉ & NICOLAS MICHON 

The play is based on the true case of a woman in Mascouche, Quebec. When she was 8 years old, two boys forced her to swallow chlorine, which resulted in her being paralysed from neck down. She could only communicate by opening and closing her eyes.

The stage action takes place 10 years later, when the main character Sarah is 18 years old. Her father catches Nathan, a teenage boy, a neighbour, peeing on their lawn and forces him to make bi-weekly visits to his daughter. After some period of awkwardness, a friendship begins to form. It quickly becomes apparent that Nathan needs Sarah's company as much as she needs his visits. Suddenly, he discovers he has somebody he can talk to. He becomes a chatter box, telling Sarah about everything that happens to him, giving an impression of using her as a sounding board. Since the actor often recites his monologues facing the audience rather than Sarah, this additionally reinforces a therapeutic kind of set up, not unlike those in a psychiatrist's office where a patient is lying on a couch facing away from the silent doctor while externalizing his life, his inner perceptions, imagery, problems, and the dysfunctional family incidents, thus working towards the reintegration of his inner being. Since they are both just teenagers, the sexuality issues inevitably also come to the forefront.

The play has an unusual element that punctuates various scenes, delineating the passage of the time. Three ballerinas are "floating" through the story line to the score of the The Sound of Music and other tunes from that era. They are dressed in pink, Sarah's favourite colour. A spectator could question whether they are Sarah's invisible friends, her guardian angels, just a scenic device to elevate or dessipate the play's psychological tensions, or all of those elements simultaneously

The play masterfully portrays an unusual relationship that develops in the aftermath of a horrific bullying incident. It throws light on the issues that ensue, bringing forth the emotions, needs, and desires of a young quadriplegic girl, as well as those of a boy who becomes her friend. It is a sensitive story that goes to the core of this particular human situation. The playwrights, the play directors, and the actors all succeeded in creating an engaging onstage presentation that is comprehensive, striking, and emotional. It has the power to engage the audience, not leaving it indifferent.  

The play also has many off-stage elements. Though not physically enacted on the stage, the graphic narration of Sarah's bullying incident that left her severely disabled creates vivid pictures in the audience's minds, as do the colourful incidents from Nathan's life he eagerly describes to Sarah. Also, there are many stage elements that are simply hinted at and left to the audience's imagination. The stage backdrop shows a rural nature scenery, but except for the very first interaction on Sarah's parents' lawn, all subsequent action happens inside their house, on the ground floor or in the basement where Sarah has her room.

There are always many non actual, non graphic or physically enacted elements in any play, including Chlorine, that are understood, imagined, or hinted at. This is why I did not consider it necessary to have actors exhibit their private body parts to the audience. These types of contemporary theatre exhibitionistic tendencies, in my opinion, have now surpassed the initial desire to shock or to be of a special interest to the audience as something new or unusual. I would now tend to characterise them as trying to be "cutesy", believing it is still innovative and capable to make a special impact or attract more attention and audience's interest. In the case of Chlorine, I think it detracts from the sensitive presentation of the story line, and forces the audience into a voyeuristic situation whether they want it or not. If it were really necessary for the play's message to be completely graphic, why not show then Sarah's diaper in the incident where her parents are washing her? Why simply show only her bare behind? The diaper (pulled from behind her if she were lying facing the audience with the bare upper leg) would have brought home much more powerfully the true complexity of her situation. The same goes for the Nathan's character stage exhibitionist incident  which could have been omitted if his stage position was choreographed with much greater class and taste vis-a-vis the audience, additionally reinforcing a sense of intimacy between the two main characters. 

There is also another issue in the play: nobody has seen Sarah since her incident. Yet she is shown in a wheelchair and therefore could have been taken out for walks by her parents. Instead, her parents installed her in their basement. And since I presume there was no elevator in their regular family home (if there were one, she could have been taken out to their backyard or for walks), this would also imply she was not taken out of the house to see a doctor, or to a hospital, and there would have been quite a problem in case of an emergency, or fire. This either points to her parents' gross negligence, if that was the case in real life, or to the play's story line disregarding this issue.  

Play's Official Synopses
'Based on an actual event, the title refers to the bullying incident which led to Sarah’s paralysis: when she was eight, two boys forced her to swallow chlorine. The chemical crystals burned her vocal cords, making her only form of communication the opening and closing of her eyes. At the onset of the play, it’s been almost a decade since Nathan has seen her and as he makes his way drunkenly home from a school dance, he wonders what has become of the girl love, and ends finally, with redemption. Over the course of the teenagers’ friendship, Sarah’s parents come to realise the incident hasn't arrested the development of their daughter’s mind and heart and the carefree little girl who went about singing the soundtrack to “The Sound of Music” has grown into a woman with more mature needs and desires.’
The Creative Team




For more information, visit the Centaur Theatre website.

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