The ensemble cast gives Borne emotional resonance.
BORNE created by Judith Thompson and the ensemble (Rare/Soulpepper). At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House). To July 19. $49, stu $25. 416-866-8666, soulpepper.ca. See listing. Rating: NNN
When Globe and Mail theatre critic J. Kelly Nestruck reviewed Rare - a show performed last year by people with Down syndrome - he refused to give it a rating. The actors weren't professionals, was his explanation.
Ludicrous, I think. You sat in a theatre, you saw a show. How did it make you feel? Rate the damn thing.
With Borne, the Rare Company's show featuring artists who use wheelchairs, Nestruck succumbed and rated it poorly, savaging it for its community theatre aesthetic. Borne is not, actually, community theatre, i.e., an amateurish production of a classic, but a stage work created by a community to shed light on how a certain population live their lives.
As such, the show, directed by collaborator Judith Thompson, succeeds. It begins with Nancy Xia zooming into the spotlight - a wonderful first moment that signifies empowerment - and her eight collaborators follow, doing one of several elegant dances with their chairs. They then tell their very different stories in monologues and scenes.
The show makes its biggest impact when it's most unpredictable, as when photographer Maayan Ziv, who has muscular dystrophy, talks about how she's parlayed her talent - and privilege - into a career in fashion, or when the performers express differing points of view on the subject of Robert Latimer, who killed his disabled daughter. Xia's story of finding personal peace only after her disastrous fall also resonates.
Some elements don't work at all: the framing device of the moondance; a poem delivered one word, one cast member at a time; Cleopatra's monologue as she dies, as spoken by Ziv. That and an anecdote by composer/pianist Dan Raralio about being racially profiled seem to come from out of the blue.
But the performers are terrific. Especially impressive are David Shannon, the elder of the group, who has staged his own solo show, the charismatic Dan Harvey and the physically gifted Russell Winkelaar, who does stunning tricks with his chair.
And the show passes the test for what makes good theatre. It's emotionally involving (for just one example, it fuelled my anger at drunk drivers) and, more important, it's wholly enlightening. I will never, under any circumstances, even if I don't see anyone within 500 metres of the women's washroom, ever use the stall set aside for people in wheelchairs ever again.