A Boca del Lupo production. At the Fishbowl on Granville Island on Wednesday, February 8. Continues until February 18
Turning one’s trauma into art isn’t just a coping mechanism for creatives—it’s a survival skill. Karen Hines’s mostly one-woman show, Crawlspace, is a blisteringly funny and fraught act of catharsis, revenge, and consumer advocacy.
Around 2006, Hines, an actor, writer, and clown (she’s one half of the clown comedy duo Mump and Smoot), bought a “condo alternative” in Toronto. Within 18 months, she’d lost her life savings and what felt like her sanity, racked up tens of thousands of dollars in credit-card debt, and learned firsthand just how crooked some realtors can be.
Hines sets out the parameters for Crawlspace early on: the approximately 100-minute show is inspired by true events, and her “character” is inspired by herself. The intimacy between Hines and her audience is amplified by the fact that this is micro-theatre, with just 20 people (divided into “homeowners” and “renters”, depending on ticket price and seating) on hand to witness the unspooling of Hines’s modern horror story as she learns that her small dream home is built on lies, misinformation, and a shoddy foundation.
Her character’s relative privilege is revealed insidiously in certain moments, but never more so than when she recalls contemplating prostitution as a means of getting out of debt. Hines very quickly confesses it’s something she’d never actually do, which makes the “joke” even more tone-deaf. For all that this tiny home tries to break her, she’s relatively safe in the knowledge that she has a support system that will help rescue her from this money pit and health hazard.
It’s a small jolt that temporarily pushes one outside Crawlspace’s otherwise carefully constructed, cleverly crafted narrative. Hines’s performance is wonderful, but the real magic here is her writing. Crawlspace is full of incredible details and observations. “The crazy sign goes in a circle for a reason,” she says, illustrating her growing obsession in trying to deal with every new inadequacy of her home. “He looked like a snowboarder, only more so,” she says of her realtor, who is also “attractive in that cruel way”. One of Hines’s most poignant lines might be this gorgeous assessment of humanity: “A weird logic swirls around everyone’s capacity to do nothing.”
What happened to Hines could have happened to anybody. But it didn’t, it happened to her. And she turned her homeowner hell into something darkly comedic and emotionally daring. Crawlspace is resistance theatre and it’s nothing short of inspiring.