Mary Ann McDonald (left), Monica Dottor, Ryan Hollyman and Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman show that life’s an itch.
SCRATCH by Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman, directed by ahdri zhina mandiela (Factory, 125 Bathurst). To November 2. Pwyc-$37. 416-504-9971. See Continuing. Rating: NNNN
The itch caused by head lice is the prickle from hell.
Take it from the regularly infected Anna, the central character in Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman's funny, moving Scratch, the exciting season opener at Factory Theatre.
But worse for teenaged Anna than the itch is the knowledge that her mother is dying of cancer. Shoving that emotional reality waaay down, Anna picks at the irritation; the scabs never heal.
Corbeil-Coleman's script, based on some of her own experiences, places a number of figures around Anna: parents (Mary Ann McDonald and Kevin Bundy), aunt (Catherine Fitch), best friend Madelyn (Monica Dottor) and a poet-caregiver (Ryan Hollyman) to whom Anna looks for a sexual release from life's pressures. They all suggest their own narrative perspectives, but since this isn't their story, they don't go into detail.
There's as much warmth as comedy in the strong writing, as the anxious Anna recalls her mother's illness and the parallels in her lice problem. Her father won't share emotionally, her mother tries to protect her, and her aunt thinks enough Kleenex or a new pair of jeans will make everything better.
While the cast is strong, the most memorable work comes from Fitch as the controlling aunt and the poet's jealous girlfriend, and Dottor as the dedicated friend whose unrecognized love for the mother emerges in a luminous monologue. McDonald's mother first suggests concern and later radiates an acceptance of life's past pleasures and an all-too-abrupt loss of the future.
Corbeil-Coleman's Anna captures the repressed teen with ease, but there are nuances she doesn't yet suggest.
Impressively directed by ahdri zhina mandiela so that the action flows filmically around Anna, the production has another plus in Kelly Wolf's set, lit by Rebecca Picherack. It's as if we're on Anna's head, with huge panels suggesting her hair and the always-present characters as lice. These metaphoric lice even multiply, scrawling more white-line eggs on the walls when they're not taking part in the action, or buzzing on the sidelines with muttered gossip that's as annoying as any itch.