Vulnerability, in a society which chooses stoicism and emotional detachment in the face of intimacy, is often misunderstood and misdirected. Après Moi and The List are absolutely necessary stories about the ways in which people experience the distance between each other and the stumbling of communication, interpretation and perception.
Performed in translation from January 28 - February 1 by Ruby Slippers Theatre, the two plays are emotionally linked by their themes of utter human-ness, and their juxtaposition is seamless and unifying -- transcending space, time and character. Diane Brown, director of Après Moi, calls the plays taken together “spectacles of intimacy.”
UBC alumna Mishelle Cuttler brilliantly designed the soundscapes for both shows, and alumna Dawn Petten plays the role of Stephanie, the sexy, altruistic, hairdresser opposite Chirag Naik’s talkative, socially inept Simon in Après Moi.
Alongside Brown, alumna Pippa Johnstone was the assistant director of Après Moi and watched the play take shape firsthand.
The show is the story of six people stranded in a roadside motel as a blizzard rages outside. Alongside Stephanie and Simon, the plot follows middle-aged spouses Simone and Stephen, and suicidal retiree Matthew, who is sandwiched in the room between the two couples. Over the course of the play, the characters relive their scenes six times, each played with increasing intimacy and honesty.
"It sort of makes you realize how there's certain times in life where there’s something you could say or you could chose not to say and how it can affect everything," said Johnstone.
The motel is part pressure cooker and part time machine where the audience watches as the characters relive their scenes until the truth is told. The plot is an unpredictable tapestry, the three stories tangle and intersect throughout the play as the scenes gain emotional momentum. This unpredictability was hard won but worth it.
“That was one of the biggest challenges,” said Johnstone. “Diane says you have to be 10 steps ahead of the audience.”
With each new replay, the layers of each character’s trajectory are revealed as if the audience is riffling through a chose-your-own-adventure book. The closer the characters become to one another, the closer the audience becomes to the characters.
The List, the second show on the bill, is a one woman play about a mother who moves her family from the city to a rural village in the hopes of finding the domestic bliss she desperately seeks. We find her amongst toys and scarves and dishes suspended from the ceiling as she recounts the events of her relationship with Caroline, her new neighbour, in the form of a list which includes her household duties, her dreams, her fears and her guilts.
The set makes it clear that the woman is imprisoned by her lists and by her domestic life. The hanging items exist like floating dreams around her. At one point, she wishes desperately that she could hide from her life inside the hall closet and to thereby be transported to a beach, a European adventure. And here she is, finally inside the closet amongst all her family’s junk.
But the space isn’t the freedom she imagined. Curtain or cage, the hanging paraphernalia of domestic life slowly spinning under the lights is eerie. This show is, as the program proclaims, “crucial.”
France Perras’ portrayal of the woman offers blunt insights that hit like a cold knife and shiver around you like the snow that falls over the woman, the closing curtain of the show.
Though very different from Après Moi, The List carries a thread from its predecessor and the emotion of the language is never lost. These plays are not to be missed, they are the sort of stories that will echo inside of you long after the lights come up.
Après Moi and The List will be playing until February 1 at Studio 16. You can purchase tickets online.