And that tip of the hat most definitely goes to writer Fanizza. They say that writing is akin to opening a blood vein and letting it flow onto the page. While not autobiographical in any specific sense, Fanizza did draw on personal experience to write this play. It takes courage to write and present anything publicly but the sheer tenacity to showcase such a gritty play that focuses on women is almost unheard of. And the risk to wade into such tumultuous waters paid off in spades as evidence by the emotional response of audience with very few dry eyes in the house.
The action revolves around two sisters, Julie (played by Julie Lemieux) and Simone (played by Karen Ivany) and delves as much into their shared history as it does into their present circumstances. Despite there only being two characters physically present on stage, it feels as though an entire cast of characters is waiting in the wings, full developed and waiting be explored. This feeling is intentional according to Adelstein. She wanted to make the worlds of these characters so real that the audience never questions whether or not these two women are related. It became part of the rehearsal process to really discuss and develop the back story of Julie and Simone. Which in turn allows for the actresses to act like family, being able to communicate an entire lifetime of bitterness, love, and feeling with a single glance at each other.
Which provides an excellent segue into the acting of this play. As an actress, I can tell you that really wonderful and deep material for women barely exists, either on stage or on film. These parts are masterfully written by Fanizza and give these actresses something to really immerse themselves in. And immerse they do. Lemieux's portrayal of Julie is astonishing. Tightly wound, distrustful, but with that shred of kinda-maybe-hope that is so evident in so many people in her position. (Yes, I'm being vague on purpose. Go see it to know what I'm talking about.) Lemieux's years as a voice actress are fully on display here as I'm sure her natural voice is not the years-of-drinking-I-just-swallowed-an-entire-ashtray-of-cigarette-butts growl I heard on stage. Let's face it. We all know a person like this and watching Lemieux bring it to life on stage was both amazing and painful in a wonderful way.
Karen Ivany as Simone is the perfect counterpoint. Again, she's that neighbour, friend, or family member everybody knows that is so perfect you just want to barf. Her struggles are so real and so poignant that her shiny gleam of perfection becomes another cross for her to bear. And if we all know someone like Julie, we've all been Simone; the friend or family member that doggedly picks up the pieces tragedy after tragedy and holds up bitter hope that life will be better for a loved one. Ivany walks the thin line of supporter and hardliner in this production with ease. She nails Simone's quickly drying up patience with her sister while still loving her deeply. And her vulnerability as she reveals more about her own tribulations are some of the most hard-hitting moments in the play.
Part of the site specific portion of the Toronto Fringe Festival, any mention of this production would not be complete without mentioning the location. Located in The White House Studio at 277.5 Augusta Ave (yup, slightly out of the traditional Fringe perimeter), the "set" is as much a character here as Julie and Simone. It's dirty, messy, and derelict, reflecting much of the emotional work these two characters deal with, both on stage and off. It's intimate and that's just how Adelstein wanted it. With the actresses a mere foot or two away, the audience is forced to experience this play more as passive participants, rather than spectators. Confused by that sentence? Just feel the physical reaction of the audience as a collective whole as the play builds up to its climatic ending and you'll know what I mean.
There are a few chances left to see this locally produced production and I highly recommend you take that chance. Here are the remaining showtimes as well as ticket information:
- July 08 08:00 PM
July 10 08:00 PM
July 11 08:00 PM
July 12 08:00 PM
July 13 08:00 PM
July 14 08:00 PM
- All individual Fringe tickets are $10 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at www.fringetoronto.com, by phone at 416-966-1062, in person at the Fringe Club, 581 Bloor St. W, July 3rd-14th, noon – 10pm (Advance tickets are $11 – $9+$2 service charge)
- Value packs are available if you plan to see at least 5 shows.
Happy creating! And Fringe-ing!