THE RED HORSE IS LEAVING written and performed by Erika Batdorf, directed by Todd Hammond (Batdorf). At the Theatre Centre (1087 Queen West). March 22 to April 8. $20, Sunday pwyc. 1-888-222-6608 or www.totix.ca. Rating: NNNNN
Erika Batdorf is used to doing physical theatre in which she's out on a limb, but in The Red Horse Is Leaving she's going for free fall.
The solo show is based on the journals of Thaya Whitten, a Nova Scotia painter, performance artist and musician who trod a fine line between psychosis and sanity in her moments of creative inspiration.
She was also Batdorf's mother.
"It's challenging to turn intimate journals into public art," admits Batdorf, who recently directed Gorey Story. "But my mother had personal journals and also work journals, and I draw from the latter. She always intended them to be accessible to others, even beyond me."
Batdorf's also clear that the show is not a personal purging.
"I've done lots of therapy," she laughs, "and this is one of my least therapeutic pieces. I'm rigorous about sticking to her journals and the inspiration of Thomas Mann's novel Doctor Faustus, which examines the relationship between genius and madness.
"Madness, whether as a metaphor or a reality, has been so poorly portrayed, usually sensationalized, in theatre and film. Taking the story of someone I knew well, I want to explore the logic in what seems to be illogic."
Intentionally breaking the fourth wall, Batdorf has constructed The Red Horse Is Leaving as part lecture, part character study of the artist, who used to give gallery talks as part of her exhibitions. The audience is sometimes recognized as observers, sometimes treated as ghostly figures haunting the speaker.
"I've tried to show my mother's attempts to manage her hallucinations, which she referred to as visuals. She took medication at times, but would also rely on a meditative process that, combined with art, translated a hallucination into something less frightening and debilitating."
The writer/performer acknowledges that the material is tough to tackle, exhausting to perform.
"It's not just the personal side of it, but playing the extremes of paranoia and euphoria that she struggled with, condensed into an hour.
"I know one of the tricks will be to find a balance, both for me and for viewers, so the audience doesn't want to yell, 'Stop!'"