If you think of theatre as an auditorium or a room where you sit and watch a performance, then hold onto your seat. Better still let go of your seat because if you see Here Are The Fragments you may sit in any number of seats or you may not sit down at all. You will be able to meander in a large number of areas, look at sets and equipment, and touch anything you want or put earphones on and listen to various items.
Let’s start from the beginning. Before you enter the Franco Boni Theatre at the Theatre Centre, you will be informed that, well, this is not a conventional production. You can go in and out of the theatre during the performance. You can touch everything but are asked to put it back where you found it and basically that this is freewheeling theatre unlike anything you may have seen before.
Peter N. Bailey. Photo: Dahlia KatzWhen you enter the playing are, you find exactly eight chairs for the audience and the rest stand against the walls of a large room. There may be around forty or fewer people in the audience. A man wearing a white coat enters holding a clipboard and asks a series of questions such as do you hear voices, do you read people’s thoughts, do you think someone else is reading your thoughts etc.
The questioner is a psychiatrist and we realize that these are questions that may be asked of a person who is delusional or hallucinatory or suffering from some other form of mental illness. The psychiatrist takes his white coat off, sits in a chair and is transformed into a man suffering from schizophrenia. His son is trying to get to him by offering food and conversation but the man is lost to all contact.
That is the introduction to this ninety-minute play written and created by Suvendrini Lena, co-created by Leah Cherniak and Trevor Schwellnus, and co-directed by Cherniak and Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu.
At that point we move into the much larger space of the Boni theatre. There are numerous sections to see as you walk around. There are small cubicles, open spaces and a large number of headphones that you can put on and listen to something about mental illness. I tried several headphone and the subject was schizophrenia.
The main subjects of the play are mental illness, its treatment (or lack of it) and racism. The psychiatrist Dr. Chauvet (played by Allen Louis) is black as is his son Eduard (Kwaku Adu-Poku). Ether (Kyra Harper) is a woman suffering from schizophrenia. The forth character is Frantz Fanon (Peter N. Bailey), the psychiatrist and brilliant intellectual who wrote Black Skin, White Masks about the depth and negative effects of racism, especially under colonial conditions.
Allan Louis. Photo: Dahlia Katz
Here Are The Fragments touches on racism, colonialism and schizophrenia. What you see depends on where you are in the various places available to you. You may pick up a copy of Black Skin, White Mask and read the helpful passages marked for you. There are many other books that may draw your attention. You may listen to something on earphones. You may watch a scene where Dr. Chauvet is treating a patient who has been hospitalized for some forty years and is on her deathbed. You may listen to Fanon broadcasting about the fate of Algerians before and during their revolt against French colonial occupation. Or you may go for coffee or do nothing.
There is no focus and no attempt to lead you to any coherent understanding of a plotline. There is no doubt about what you ingesting about mental illness and racism. If you are a good liberal and imagine that you know something about racism and pat yourself on your superior back, you should be shocked by the depths of racial hatred that Dr. Chauvet and Frantz Fanon faced and that is certainly still with us.
In the end we go back to the first scene and witness Eduard trying a new approach to his father’s schizophrenia thus leaving us on somewhat hopeful note. I am not sure how much hope there is for theatre so unfocused and disjointed.
Here Are The Fragments in a coproduction by The ECT Collective and The Theatre Centre continues until December 1, 2019 at The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St. West, Toronto, Ontario.
James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press