CHRONIC by Linda Griffiths, directed by Simon Heath, with Caroline Gillis, Holly Lewis, J.D. Nicholsen, Eric Peterson, Graeme Somerville and Brooke Johnson. Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst). Previews begin Friday (January 3), opens Wednesday (January 8) and runs to February 2, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday and February 1 at 2 pm (except January 5 at 7 pm). $22-$30, Sunday pwyc-$22. 416-504-9971. Rating: NNNNN
we keep hearing about our world's chronic conditions -- chronic unemployment, chronic poverty, chronic homelessness. One of the ramifications of that mindset is that we shrug and accept the situation. What happens, wonders playwright Linda Griffiths, when the chronic becomes acute?
"Too often we accept chronic as a concept and a way of living," notes Griffiths, award-winning author of Maggie And Pierre and Alien Creature: A Visitation From Gwendolyn MacEwen. "It's been a comforting word for much of North American society for the past several years, and I want to explore what happens when you no longer embrace the notion -- or at least examine where to draw the line."
Griffiths's play centres on Petra, a Web designer working for a dot.com firm and living with a mysterious virus that won't go away. Her ongoing relationship with the bug -- one of the play's characters -- affects the way she interacts with her employer, co-worker, boyfriend and doctor.
"You can't write a play about something like chronic fatigue syndrome; it turns into a magazine article rather than a piece of theatre. But you can write about a theme, with the virus as metaphor. In a similar way, Maggie And Pierre wasn't about two real-life people but, rather, about passion versus reason."
The fact that Petra works in the computer field seems a link between the individual and society, given our constant fear of computer viruses.
"There's such an infectious quality about computers that most people feel they can't live without them. It's almost as if the play's characters are living in a world that's moving as fast as a virus replicates. That level of speed isn't human speed."
Chronic is a multilayered script, the kind of contradictory piece that Griffiths describes as a "yes, but also" work when she tries to analyze it.
"Why is Petra sick? There are so many factors involved, from her current relationships to her parents to the actual virus itself.
"But she wants to give a name to what she has -- in fact needs that kind of comfort in a name. It's frustrating to have any one of a number of nameless environmental illnesses, because people can't give you sympathy if there's no specific thing to identify. The disease exists only in a shadow world, and you start living in that world."
Griffiths has a way of giving her characters a touch of poetry, and her talk about the virus quickly moves beyond the mundane. He -- yes, a he, played by Eric Peterson -- is more than an oogie-boogie monster.
"The virus is oddly soothing for her. And it was easy for me to make the virus real by turning him into a character. His simple purpose is to continue and reproduce, and at some level he acts as a teacher."
The playwright despairs, she says with a touch of humour in her voice, of tying up the work's loose ends perfectly. This is a play about an illness that doesn't go away, that isn't vanquished in the last scene by a miracle cure.
"I think of the piece as a wild ride. I hope the audience strap on their seatbelts and go." theatre previews