INSOMNIA by Daniel Brooks with Guillermo Verdecchia, directed by Chris Abraham, with Brooks, Fiona Highet, Colombe Demers and Randy Hughson. Presented by Necessary Angel/Theatre Junction at Buddies in Bad Times (12 Alexander). Previews Tuesday (November 7), opens Wednesday (November 8) and runs to November 26, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 2 pm. $20-$35, Sunday pwyc. 416-975-8555. Rating: NNNNN
If director Chris Abraham is going without a lot of sleep these days, it's not because he has insomnia - though he is caught up in Insomnia, Necessary Angel's revival of a 1988 hit by Daniel Brooks, written with Guillermo Verdecchia, with Brooks in the central role.
This time around, Abraham directs, though by his own admission he's restaging the earlier version, which impressed the then recent National Theatre School grad, who now teaches at the school and is one of Toronto's best directors.
"I'd just arrived in Toronto and the show made a huge impact on me," recalls Abraham. "I remember walking out in an altered state."
Insomnia is the dreamlike story of John F., a man who worries about life's possible tragedies. It doesn't help that his marriage is on the skids, he's stymied by writer's block, is troubled by his successful brother and has a crush on his sister-in-law.
Why revive the play?
"John is concerned that the world isn't in very good shape, and that's a powerful force in a lot of people's lives in terms of how they relate to themselves, their convictions and the society around them."
But at another level, the remount comes from Brooks's interest in revisiting some of his earlier works. He staged a reading of the show a few years ago when he took over Necessary Angel, to check out its relevance. From the start, the idea was to involve Abraham when the company remounted Insomnia. The link between the two directors was cemented in 2001 when Brooks won the first Siminovitch Prize and named Abraham as his protege.
"Our relationship has been changing since we've started working together as director and actor," admits Abraham. "The scope of mentoring is evolving, but we've also become friends, deepening our collaboration and seeing what that gives both of us."
He's now an associate artist with the company, directing the spring premiere of Brooks's The Eco Show and also developing a new work with his long-time theatre associate, playwright Anton Piatigorsky, about friendship and artistic collaboration.
Abraham still runs indie company Go Chicken Go, and with his wife Liisa Repo-Martell is writing a film script about "the false idea that progress is always good for us and for the planet," based on the ideas of Ronald Wright.
After Insomnia opens, he directs Jason Robert Brown's musical Songs For A New World. Not many people who admire Abraham's cutting-edge productions realize that back in high school he helmed productions of West Side Story, Jesus Christ Superstar and The Fantasticks.
Right now he doesn't mind that Insomnia isn't allowing him much shut-eye.
"The show's stuck in my mind since I first saw it," he smiles. "I hope it has that effect on others who see it for the first time."