Something terrible has happened to May.
We know this right from the get-go. We get a glimpse into her character, who seems compassionate, caring, and concerned for others. But something’s not quite right.
May (Niki Landau) tries to care for a dying bird, but her husband, Dan (Ausar Stewart), seems to only patronize her. She also tries to care for her dying father (David Schurmann), who doesn’t seem to reciprocate her love.
We sense something dark lingering in May’s past – something preventing her from fully moving forward. To an outside observer, she feels like a victim - until we find out that she actually has a criminal past.
But do victims and perpetrators exist as two separate entities in an equation? Can a person be both? And if so, how does that affect our view of them?
These are all questions that Linda McLean’s Strangers, Babies commands you to swish around in your brain. How do we, as a society, deal with ex-criminals who are reintegrating into society? Should they be able to live a relatively “normal” life after their crime?
It’s a tough one for a lot of people to swallow, but that’s a given. And that’s what makes this show the ethical conundrum that it is.
Michael Gianfrancesco’s set has the audience exploring the space alongside May. There is no assigned seating, but rather five separate spaces that audience members are invited to wander into, watching May’s interactions with five men in her life: her husband, her father, her Internet hookup (Richard Lee), her brother (Jeff Lillico) and a social worker (Edmund Stapleton).
The space at Artscape Sandbox is used really well for this type of interactive piece. Each section of the set is spacious with just enough pieces to dress up each scene, but with no clutter and no viewing interference. Audience members are encouraged to sit or stand on risers within the venue to get a better view of certain scenes.
To my slight disappointment however, my audience in particular maintained a generous berth at all times to give the actors their space. I can’t help but wonder the type of experience that would have come out of an audience having the guts to pack in even closer.
Landau navigates this play’s world with such frustrating precision. You can try to unravel her character, but even up until the last moments of the show, there seems to be this feeling of uncertainty. You may desperately want her to succeed in her pursuit of motherhood, but you have to ask yourself: is part of you still unable to trust her? This play does not spoon feed its audience. And this company is not giving anything away. So, listen up.
You are implicated in the plot of this play, whether you like it or not. Strangers, Babies teaches each audience member a little bit about themselves, while also forcing them to question their viewpoint and recognize the very grey nature of the truth that lies beneath May’s plight.
Presented by Theatre Panik and directed by Paul Lampert, Strangers, Babies plays at Artscape Sandbox until May 28. For more information, visit http://www.theatrepanik.ca.