Think middle school was tough? Try middle life. Kristen Thomson's new play, Someone Else, reveals the identity crises of a comedian, a doctor, and a troubled teen.
When going through adolescence, we sometimes see “the parent” as a faceless buzz kill who leads a purposeless life in a dead-end job. It’s only after we’ve arrived at adulthood that we discover our parents are complicated human beings dealing with changes and stresses of their own. That’s also when we realize that, one day, we will become them. Depending on the scenario, this can be an awfully disturbing feeling. And if the scenario is anything like Kristen Thomson’s Someone Else, it’s downright frightening.
This is why we sympathized with the young and angsty Vanessa (Nina Taylor), small and vexing though her part may be. Now on at the Berkeley Theatre in a co-production by Canadian Stage and Crow’s Theatre (that latter of which recently announced its upcoming new home in Leslieville), Someone Else revolves around Vanessa’s parents—comedian Cathy (Thomson) and doctor Peter (Tom Rooney)—as they reach middle age and experience shifts in identity that cause their marriage dissolve into rage and resentment.
Their interactions always end in attacks, demonstrating the breakdown in communication between them. But the audience gets glimpses of the the pair’s inner demons through Cathy’s acidic monologues—possibly the most uncomfortable stand-up routine imaginable—and Peter’s professionally inappropriate relationship with one of his patients, April (Bahia Watson), a troubled girl with a history of self-mutilation.
Someone Else is the third in a kind of trilogy of collaborations between Thomson and director Chris Abraham (both of whom spoke to us recently), each exploring a time of transition from a very personal point of view. Known best for their 2001 hit I, Claudia, a funny and charming one-woman show portraying divorce from a 12-year-old’s perspective, Abraham and Thompson have now created a much more grown-up, nuanced, and challenging examination of a breakup. It’s almost as exhausting to watch as it must be to perform.
Peter and Cathy wage war on a set designed by Julie Fox to look like a stark, dirty-white, no man’s land. The stage is decorated with mountains made of moving boxes. Lining the back wall are four doors that facilitate entrances and exits to various locations, but which are best used in a frenzied scene where Peter desperately searches for a ringing phone, while Cathy expresses her unhappiness into her trusty mic. At another point, Peter reveals to April a number of cuts on his chest that are, at first, horrifying to see. The horror deepens when we realize that Cathy hasn’t—or has refused to—see them first. A meeting between Peter and David (Damien Atkins), a man who was involved a traumatic incident from Peter’s past, is a little too cryptic and needs more context. Even so, it was moving enough to allow us to picture Atkins’s and Rooney’s acceptance speeches at the next Dora Awards. Scenes like these will make for lots of post-show discussions: they’re not easily forgotten.
Running themes of miscommunication, literal and hidden scars, and the impossibility of knowing someone else’s mind don’t exactly make for a hopeful forecast for younger audience members. Luckily, Watson’s refreshing April reminds us that most families are born in hope, which should prevent too many people from committing to a life of singledom after seeing the play.