Tuesday, May 22, 2018


After the Blackout is a startling play written and directed by Judith Thompson. Each of the six characters in it is suffering from one of the following: brain-damage, drug addiction, leg amputation, deafness (2 of them), hands and arms amputation and blindness. But the actors are not representing people with these conditions. The actors have exactly the same or at least similar disabilities as the characters that they play.

Six people from disparate backgrounds find themselves in a cottage in northern Ontario. The star-lit sky looks unbelievably beautiful and we discover the stories of these six. Roxy (Mary Beth Rubens) was a successful actor, a star in fact, until she suffered a serious brain injury that disabled her for life. In the first scene she meets a young man whom she met on line. He is young enough to be her son and she cannot understand what he is after.

 After the Blackout Ensemble. Photo by Elias Campbell.

We soon find that the youth is Dash (Yousef Kadoura) whom she gave up for adoption. His lower leg has been amputated and we see him with and without his prosthesis. He is searching for his mother to find out why she gave him up for adoption. He finds her and the reason she gave him up is not very pleasant.

Zola (Tamyka Bullen) is deaf and can only communicate in sign language. Her friend Beatrix (Catherine Joell MacKinnon) is also deaf but she has learned to read lips and Zola considers her a traitor.Khari (Prince Amponsah) has had his hands and arms amputated. He is a wise man and a professor of writing. His wife Jamie (Melanie Lepp) is blind from juvenile diabetes.

I give all these details because I feel it is important to know under what conditions these actors are performing. Neither the actors nor the characters consider themselves disabled in the conventional sense. All of them are intelligent and accomplished with the possible exception of Dash who spends time in jail for breaking and entering and sexual assault. But he too is a poet. All of them have problems “after the blackout” that brought their current condition but all of them surpass them. Maybe. Maybe not. See the play.
Melanie Lepp. Photo by Elias Campbell.
The play is episodic as the characters are allowed to tell their story. There is unevenness in the writing. Near the end Thompson goes off the rails when she starts preaching about racism. The end is overwritten and takes too long to wrap up and unravel the possible conclusions to the stories.

There is unevenness in the acting as well. Some of the actors have scant acting experience and the plot does creak a bit. But their stories are so gripping that you overlook all such details as you see the drama of adversity, conflict and triumph unfold. This is by no means a rah-rah play about people with disabilities making it. It is not Paralympics but a play about real people with real disabilities who are playing people with real disabilities.

The set design by Sue Lepage in the small Tank House Theatre features scenes of cottage country with a tree line of evergreens, a star-lit sky and scenes at a cottage and elsewhere with a minimum of props.

The play needs some dramaturgy but the performance and the view of the actors will stay with you for a long time. This is extraordinary theatre. Go see it.

After the Blackout by Judith Thompson in a production by Rare Theatre Company continues until May 26, 2018 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Tank House Lane, Toronto, Ontario. www.soulpepper.ca,   www.raretheatre.org/

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