Monthly Archives: April 2011

A Review of The Middle Place

Photo by Andrew Wasyleczko

Sometimes theatre is as much about finding a good story as telling it. Project: Humanity’s (in association with Passe Muraille and Canadian Stage) The Middle Place does just that. Playwright Andrew Kushnir has created a wonderfully coherent script with the raw material gathered from a series of interviews with the residents of a homeless shelter for youth in Toronto.

Currently playing at the GCTC/Irving Greenberg Theatre, the script is a collection of monologues, which taken together present us with a window of what life is like for the residents of the shelter. It is a piece of verbatim theatre, which means that Kushnir and company tell the stories of the shelter youths using the residents own words. These stories cover a range of topics from struggles with mental illness, to falling in love in the shelter, to a dream of building habitats for humanity in space. There is a lot of humour in the piece but there are also darker and sad moments.

The lighting design is effectively minimal as the actors take on multiple roles portraying the lives of those who make this shelter their home. Some of the performances (on opening night) were a little uneven, but overall the piece succeeds because of the commitment of the director, playwright, and actors in portraying these stories to us without making it come off like a film documentary. The key to their success is the physicality of the performers and the simple but clever staging of the piece.

Of the talented group, Kevin Walker stands out. Walker’s attention to detail is incredible as he lends a unique voice to each character he plays. In one moment, he is an African immigrant recounting his experiences in his native homeland, and the next he is a restrained and troubled young man struggling to cope with mental health issues. All are played with sincerity and skill.

This play moves at a rapid pace with quick transitions punctuated by the sound of the shelter’s door buzzer. It held my attention until the end. The play will certainly appeal to younger audiences, but I wonder if the high ticket price will keep these audiences away. If so, that’s a shame because it is this kind of accessible and topical theatre that could grow a new audience for the Great Canadian Theatre Company.

The Middle Place is not preachy or overly political but merely aspires to tell the residents stories in their own words. It is a very bare bones minimalist production, without set or costuming, that gives us a window into the lives of others living within our communities. It’s worth seeing.

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