Crash, the one-woman show by Pamela Sinha, returns to Theatre Passe Muraille to open the fall 2013 season. The unsettling and deeply personal performance was a surprise winner in the New Play category at the 2012 Doras (over the phenomenally popular Kim’s Convenience, which is now being produced for television). Those who’d seen this intense autobiographical tale about the fallout from a brutal sexual assault were perhaps not so surprised.
Sinha had been a constant presence on Toronto stages before Crash‘s debut, and she had taken a lot of care to get her story, the first one she has written for the stage, just so. Her team of collaborators included director Alan Dilworth and lighting designer Kimberly Purtell. Their work accentuates Sinha’s commanding performance with flourishes we’ve hitherto not seen in Passe Muraille’s small Backspace theatre. Sinha goes up and down several staircases, occupies the apartment where the assault took place, and takes us through decades, slowly revealing details of how the fallout from the assault affected her family as well as herself, and even the investigating officer.
Crucial details about “the girl” (Sinha tells the story in the third person) are revealed slowly over the play’s 90 minutes, though many are frustratingly hidden, not only from the audience, but also from the narrator. Time is elastic in the show, but one key fact—that it was seven years later when “the girl” checked into a mental clinic with suicide-watch protocols—makes it clear that the aftermath of the assault is slow and unpredictable.
Sinha herself is always precise and controlled, even when the character she’s inhabiting on stage is definitely not. Her poise is evident during parts of the performance with religious overtones, in dance sequences, and during flashbacks. The intensity of the subject matter would be subverted if there was any hint to the audience that they weren’t in safe hands with this storyteller. It’s, frankly, a phenomenal performance, not least because of its autobiographical nature.
As with any good art, you’re likely to leave with more questions than answers. The play’s “what ifs” may be demons Sinha herself has learned to tamp down, but to an audience member—and we all bring our own experiences to a story like this, given how depressingly common sexual assault is—they may be upsetting. But Crash also has love, and healing, and family bonding. There’s a kind of group catharsis when the show concludes. It’s a powerful feeling, and it’s not to be missed.