THE BOOK OF JUDITH by Michael Rubenfeld and Sarah Stanley (Theatre Centre/Absit Omen/Die in Debt). At the CAMH grounds (1001 Queen West). To May 31. $20. 416-538-0998. See listing. Rating: NN
An intriguing presentation style and a nontraditional venue add some novelty to The Book Of Judith. But without a decent script, the project falls apart.
That could be one of co-writer/performer Michael Rubenfeld's points, but it doesn't make the play any more interesting to sit through.
Inspired by Rubenfeld's work with quadraplegic activist and artist Judith Snow - they collaborated on a short piece for Buddies' Rhubarb! festival that included Snow, naked, getting dressed - The Book Of Judith is less a play than a backgrounder for a play.
Rubenfeld, dressed up like a revival meeting preacher and hollering his words as if he's been touched by the spirit of differently abled peoples everywhere, tells the story of how he met Snow, what he felt, how he broke up with his girlfriend, how he wanted to put on a play and learned to love everyone in the process.
Touchy-feely revelations abound and spread to the audience when we're asked to hold one another's hands and eat gluten-free bread (passed, unhygienically, from our neighbours' hands into our mouths).
Only in the play's final moments is there anything resembling drama or tension. Here, Rubenfeld lets down his guard to be judged, presumably in the same way that Snow and many other disabled people feel judged all the time. It's a powerful moment, but it comes too late and feels like a gimmick.
Using a chorus of abled and disabled performers works well, however, and the strong-voiced Alex Bulmer leads the singers with authority. Andrew Penner's compositions do a good job of mimicking actual hymns, and the uncredited white tent set adds greatly to the experience.
Buried in the script is the fact that Rubenfeld received several levels of government funding for this project. Using liberal arts funding to represent diversity - now that's a subject rich with possibility. Too bad he didn't look more deeply into it.