HABITAT by Judith Thompson, directed by Katherine Kaszas, with Stephen Ouimette, Kristina Nicoll, Luke Kirby, Holly Lewis and Corinne Conley. Presented by Canadian Stage at the Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front East). Previews from Monday (September 17), opens September 20 and runs to October 13, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday 1:30 pm and Saturday 2 pm. $20-$69, some Monday pwyc. 368-3110. Rating: NNNNN
motherhood's a big deal to kris- tina Nicoll these days, both on- and offstage.The only way she can reconstruct the chronology of her stage work is by using the ages of her children.
"Let's see, Michael was born in 1998, and I remember being pregnant during Twelfth Night, and the last two performances of 1994's A Comedy Of Errors at Stratford had to be cancelled because I had Nicholas."
She's also preparing for the world premiere of Judith Thompson's Habitat. On the surface, the piece is about an attempt to set up a teen group home in a well-to-do suburb and the conflicts that pit homeowners against the manager of the home and its residents. But the underlying theme is the mother/daughter relationship.
Nicoll doubles in the show, playing both the dying mother of a rebellious teen and the well-bred lawyer daughter of a fiercely independent widow.
"I read all of Judith's work before I started rehearsals, and it's all about mothers," says Nicoll.
"She investigates that central wound we all share, in and around our parents. We all begin with that primary drama of birth -- Habitat is full of references to learning to breathe -- and then there's the unavoidable tension between parents and children.
"Janet, the lawyer, isn't sure how to deal with the big, gaping wound of separation from her mother, but it propels her forward. Janet even tackles one of society's biggest taboos, not loving her own children."
Nicoll is quiet and philosophical today, more restrained than when she's onstage in roles like the fairy-tale princess with an edge in Charming And Rose or the scary psychic Benita in Human Remains. There's a sparkle to her comic Shakespearean roles, a mesmerizing draw to her dramatic ones.
Nicoll's reflectiveness, she admits, might come from working on a Judith Thompson creation. There's no Canadian playwright whose work is quite so screamingly funny and horrifyingly naked at the same time. She always elicits a visceral reaction, as she's proven in works like The Crackwalker, White Biting Dog and I Am Yours.
"There's a reason we're like zombies at the end of the day. To play Judith's text, you have to think faster than light. If it's done well, it moves with an alarming speed that makes what pops out of your mouth surprising both for you and the audience.
"Rehearsals can be dark places to go, and your brain either hurts when the day's over or you cry to let it all out. But it's a good hard to rehearse Judith.
"That sounds like a porn line," she says with a rare laugh, "but what I mean is that it's such delicate work. Each actor is like a player in a chamber piece. Even when the oboe isn't playing, the musician sits and follows the music. When she comes in again, she takes what she's heard and been moved by, matching and supporting the other performers."
And how does she tackle this precise work?
"By being real. I don't mean sincere, but unclothed and vulnerable, without any acting tricks. And piggy."
"On some level, we're all animals in how we fight. We wish we could all talk like Noel Coward, but when the blood's up, nasty things come out of us."
email@example.com Science Fiction; Macbeth
1999 King Lear; Hedda Gabler
1998 Twelfth Night
1994 The Comedy Of Errors
1990 Unidentified Human Remains And The True Nature Of Love