Even if you’re sick of hearing about war stories in the news, there’s no denying they can make for powerful drama, particularly when the story onstage is about those who tell those grim stories for a living.
BLiNK, the collective creation for Luminato by the inaugural Soulpepper Academy, examines the impact of war on the life of a photojournalist, played by Dora nominee Mike Ross. Using a combination of sonic and visual effects, as well as real war stills (courtesy of story/photography consultant and photojournalist Rita Leistner) and a constantly shifting time and locale, BLiNK makes for a powerful presentation that moves past being a simple polemic on the evils of war.
Lorenzo Savoini, the show’s designer, perfectly captures the mental disintegration of the photographer, seamlessly portraying the outer world of war photojournalism with sleek economy while seamlessly integrating it with one individual’s gradual mental breakdown. Through the clever use of video projection onto the bare walls of the Tank House Theatre, we see how Joshua’s medium of choice eventually turns on him, becoming not a medium for truth and revelation but a means for continued propaganda. Lines of sand around the edges of the stage become shifting boundaries that blur the divisions between sane and insane, right and wrong, Even the audience is forced to step in and around them entering and exiting the small space.
Performances are uniformly strong, with Ross delivering a heart-rending portrayal of a man desperately trying to hang on to every vestige of the familiar while simultaneously pushing it, and those who care the most, away, including his pregnant partner, Candace, played with a compelling mix of compassion and frustration by Sarah Wilson. Jennifer Villaverde, as Zaina, the girlfriend of a killed mutual friend, has a small but powerful role in which she hits every emotional note with a tightly-wound fury. As Joshua’s cohort, Jason, Michael Blake uses his physicality and big voice to inversely underline the human vulnerability that sits at the heart of BLiNK.
Nicolas Billon, the show’s dramaturge, has wisely chosen not to offer a preachy, boring morality lesson; he and the rest of the Soulpepper Academy collective have instead chosen something far more intimate, intricate, disturbing, and ultimately, enlightening. The central tensions in BLiNK (between Joshua and his partner, his agent, his friends, the war, and ultimately his choice of work) are presented with honesty and compassion. The intimate confines of the Tank House Theatre adds a personal feel to the proceedings, bringing the concept of war much closer than the evening news. You won’t quite think of “shooting” the same way again.
Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann.