THE RED HORSE IS LEAVING by Erika Batdorf, directed by Todd Hammond (Batdorf). At the Theatre Centre (1087 Queen West). Runs to April 8. 1-888-222-6608 or www.totix.ca. Rating: NN Rating: NN
An exploration of madness and creativity, The Red Horse Is Leaving sometimes offers a rough ride.
Drawing inspiration from her artist mother's journals, Erika Batdorf has fashioned a solo show that's part physical theatre, part monologue, part philosophy of art, all focused on a painter who finds it difficult to put her ideas on canvas.
We in the audience - sometimes addressed directly and at one point invited onstage to paint our impressions of fear - are drawn into the tale.
At times we're helpful forces, and at others we become dark phantoms who might have emerged from the artist's unsettled imagination.
It's the middle part of the show that's dramatically problematic: Batdorf offers conceptual ideas about art and imagination, touches on the under-valuation of women artists and indulges in a complex, unfathomable sort of feng shui as she moves furniture around the stage.
The pill-popping, meditative character is clearly haunted by forces whose signs she can't understand, but the text fails to bring us into her world. The performer's physical work under director Todd Hammond is more involving.
An opening wordless segment suggests the character's anxious internal life through a nervous leg tic, fingers that scurry around like spider legs and hands that wave indecipherable messages in the air. It conveys this figure's torments and unsuccessful search for meaning better than any of the later speeches. Interludes between scenes, where Batdorf scrambles animal-like on the set's ordered chaos, also conjure up the woman's haunted psyche.
Where the performer succeeds best is in communicating tone and mood as the character moves from distress to calmness; here she's helped by the work of lighting designer Kimberly Purtell and composer J. Rigzin Tute .
Rather than the playwright's words, it's this subtextual communication that you'll take away from the show.