By C.E. Gatchalian. Directed by Sean Cummings. A Meta.for Theatre Company and Broken Whisper production in association with the Firehall Arts Centre. At the Firehall Arts Centre until Saturday, March 11
Broken is an apt title for this collection of short plays, which revels in the fragmentary and the wounded. But the theatrical experience it provides is remarkably whole.
Local playwright C.E. Gatchalian's text is spare and poetic; there is plenty of emotion in these pieces, but it's virtually all subtextual. In Motifs and Repetitions, a startlingly fresh take on the love triangle, Adrian is chastely dating Cathy. Meanwhile, Cathy enjoys a purely carnal relationship with Jeff, Adrian's best friend (and the object of his unspoken desire). Although there are blips of naturalism, such as a brief scene in which Adrian admires Cathy's socks (the exchange is later repeated with Jeff in Cathy's place), most of the feelings are communicated through the repetition of short phrases; often, the characters simply say each other's names. Meaning accumulates through repetition, and there is as much said in the silences between the lines as in the words themselves. It's gripping, almost hypnotic.
Repetition, rhythm, and subtext are among Gatchalian's stylistic preoccupations. In Ticks, a metronome sets the beat for a man's confession about the black hole he claims to have in his chest. Hands, one of the evening's most powerful pieces, features a middle-aged married couple who appear the very picture of bland domesticity-she folds laundry while he reads the paper-but the menace that lurks beneath the surface of their relationship soon becomes apparent. In Diamond, a voice-over calls out lighting and stage directions as a woman moves around the space, recalling shards of memory through association with specific body parts: her hands, her hair, her eyebrows. Masked figures eventually assume her various spots on the stage and take over the telling of her story, whose meaning remains elliptical. The experience is both disorienting and richly theatrical. Only Star, a monologue for a rhapsodic drag queen, seems thematically out of place.
Director Sean Cummings skillfully weaves together these five short pieces, subtly suggesting relationships between characters in the different scripts. It's both tantalizing and grounding. Thrasso Petras's charmingly unaffected performance in Ticks, which is broken up into scenes that recur between the other plays, provides a refreshing point of direct contact for the audience in Gatchalian's often alienated world.
Cummings draws strong work from the entire cast. Ntsikie Kheswa and Nelson Wong join Petras in Motifs and Repetitions; all three offer technically precise and emotionally nuanced performances. Tanja Dixon-Warren is riveting as the terrified wife in Hands, and Michael Fera is casually threatening as her husband.
Yvan Morissette's compact, angular set is complemented by Mélissa C. Powell's stark, geometric lighting design. Cummings's sound design is spare and effective. This production's admirable restraint is perfectly suited to the world Gatchalian has created-one in which so much more is suggested than is ever said.