Mike Ross in Blink
BLINK by the company, directed by Weyni Mengesha (Soulpepper Academy). Young Centre (55 Mill). To June 15. $10. 416-872-1111. Rating: NNN
Can anyone who visits a warzone ever forget its horrors, even when they've returned to the security of home and family?
That's the question posed by Blink, the collective show devised by the nine members of the Soulpepper Academy. In a sense, it's the company's graduation piece, for after a two-year stint with Soulpepper these young theatre artists move off to work on their own projects.
The central figure, Joshua (Mike Ross), is an award-winning war photographer who's been embedded in Iraq with his friend and mentor Jason (Michael Blake). The play's opening moments shows us an enemy attack that leaves Jason dead; the rest of the play leads us to how that death occurred. One of the important narrative lines of the play is Joshua's avoidance of Jason's widow Zaina (Jennifer Villlaverde), in part because he can't bear to tell her what happened and in part because he can't bear to look at the truth himself.
The hour-long piece, dramaturged by playwright Nicolas Billon, has many fascinating elements, not least of which is Weyni Mengesha's clever, fluid, cinematic direction. It's arguable that the entire play takes place in Joshua's mind, so the flashes back and forth in time and place (and the collisions of the two) make dramatic sense. Lorenzo Savoini's design makes fine use of the whole stage area, relying on lighting to define and delineate locale as well as situations; the ever-encroaching desert sand becomes a key factor in the story.
Another vital part of the story is the unnamed Soldier (Kevin MacDonald) who pops up regularly to offer Joshua advice and have philosophical dialogues with him. The Soldier is a kind of alter ego for the photographer, pushing him to look at the truths of his life but never judging him.
As with many collective creations, not every element of the show works equally well. Sometimes moment go by too quickly for us to understand them, and the Soldier's scene-to-scene function isn't always clear.
Yet other episodes stand out for their strength, including a surreal bedroom scene and another when the Soldier talks with Joshua about the importance of digging a latrine. As Joshua's fast-talking agent, Stephen Guy-McGrath brings humour and a few surprising moments of humanity to the show.
The heart of the work, though, is the relationship between Joshua and his pregnant girlfriend Candace (Sarah Wilson). Making us believe in this couple, the two actors create a believable duo, concerned
about the choices that they make as individuals and as a couple. Even with that palpable love, though, we still understand the spoken and unspoken tensions between them.