The Particulars is a poignant and haunting play about insomnia

Playwright/director Matthew MacKenzie takes audiences on a strange and hermetic journey into loneliness

THE PARTICULARS by Matthew MacKenzie (Punctuate! Theatre, The Theatre Centre). At the Theatre Centre (1115 Queen West). Runs to October 26. $20-$30. 416-538-0988, See listings. Rating: NNNN

Many things are keeping Gordon (Simon Bracken) awake. Toxic fumes linger in his home long after the renovators he hired have completed their work. An inexplicable scratching sound emanates from within his walls. Over the course of this eerily absorbing work from Edmonton playwright/director Matthew MacKenzie (Bears), Gordon will narrate seven days in which things mostly adhere to his strict routine and yet everything is unnervingly askew.

On a bare stage decorated solely with an undulating spectral scrim, Gordon is accompanied by a septet of dancers sheathed in diaphanous white veils. Gordon himself is clad in tighty-whities, a kimono and glasses, an outfit that renders him at once constantly ready for bed and constantly vigilant. With his red-rimmed eyes and tense lower jaw, Gordon speaks of himself in the third person. He describes his daily habits and professional life, his formative experiences and social coping mechanisms, his gardening woes and acts of kindness toward forsaken felines, all the while speaking in ominous tones that, to blackly comical effect, infuse seemingly innocuous activities and personal tragedy with equal gravity. Which is exactly how everything seems when you can’t sleep: the slightest nuisance or fraught thought can trigger a flood of existential dread.  

Choreographed by Alida Kendell, the dancers shiver, whirl and scurry. They gesticulate and interact as a kind of mute chorus. At times they embody a battalion of ladybugs. When they tilt their heads back, the fabric tightens on their faces and gives the illusion of asphyxiation. They express myriad anxieties Gordon only alludes to.

The Particulars has no credited sound designer, but the soundscape, which includes excerpts from Henryk Górecki’s Symphony Of Sorrowful Songs and Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, is bleak, dramatic and overfamiliar to a degree that it could register as parody. That’s not altogether inappropriate for this hermetic journey into loneliness, insomnia and grief, which sustains a delicate balance of humour, strangeness and poignancy throughout its 75-minute runtime.

The Particulars, which closes this weekend, has evolved since its initial iteration into something lean and haunting. Don’t sleep on this one.


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