It is impossible to write anything about recent Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman (pictured, centre) and her play Scratch without mentioning her parents. This is a little unfortunate as it might seem to imply that the reason to pay attention to this actor and recent graduate of the National Theatre School’s playwriting program is because she is the daughter of actor/director/writer/former Artistic Director of Passe Muraille Layne Coleman and novelist/journalist Carole Corbeil and not because she is a fabulous talent in her own right, which she very much is. But versions of both of her formidable parents appear as characters in Scratch. Although ostensibly a work of fiction, the play is admittedly semi-autobiographical, and the story of Scratch‘s Anna (played by Corbeil-Coleman) and her struggle with her mother’s death as well as an especially prolific case of lice mirrors the playwright’s own experience when her mother passed away in 2000.
Starting when Anna is in grade six and and first learns about both her own lice problem as well as her mother’s cancer, the play follows her journey through an adolescence that is painful, but at the same time very relatable. The cast is lovely. Mary Ann McDonald (who seems to be making a career out of playing women with beautiful souls who are dying of cancer) is intensely likable as Anna’s mother, while Catherine Fitch brings that hilarious no-nonsense quality she has perfected so well over the years to the role of Anna’s aunt. And Ryan Hollyman manages to find the perfect balance between cool and pathetic as the poet who comes to prepare food for Anna’s ailing mother, but finds himself becoming somewhat infatuated with both mother and daughter.
The story of Scratch may be familiar to some audience members. Corbeil-Coleman first started making headlines with the play she co-wrote with friend Emily Sugerman called The End of Pretending, which also touched on Corbeil’s death. Her father also wrote a great play on the subject, Tijuana Cure, which will be remounted at Passe Muraille this spring. What Corbeil-Coleman seems to be going after in this version of the story is the warts-and-all (lice-and-all?) reality of what it’s like to be a teen coping with grief. And while the script isn’t perfect, when it works, it works. There are some very truthful moments in this play, such as Anna discussing with her father whether or not Britney Spears got breast implants while her mother is in hospital, that work brilliantly. And a scene with what has to be one of the most awkward blowjobs ever to be seen on stage is heartbreaking, funny, cruel, and perfect. Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman is a name we’re going to be hearing much more about in the theatre world. And soon, mentioning her parents in a review won’t be necessary.
Scratch plays at Factory until November 2.
Photo by Ed Gass Donnelly.