Sunday, September 11, 2016

Fringe Festival 2016: The Girl Who Was Raised by Wolverine

This is my dedicated weekend to see Fringe Festival shows, as I anticipate next week will be a bit of a time-suck between teaching and other projects (although, who knows?). I picked two shows, both at the Waterfront Theatre, for yesterday afternoon.

The first was The Girl Who Was Raised by Wolverine, by Deneh'Cho Thompson, whom I know as a very talented actor in the School for the Contemporary Arts' Theatre program. This is Deneh's first play, and it focuses on a young mixed-raced Indigenous woman named Stephanie whose blood apparently holds the cure for a mysterious contagion that has befallen the world in the not-too-distant future. Stephanie has been held against her will for psychiatric observation and physiological experimentation in a state hospital since childhood and is now faced with an impossible decision: she must decide which of her parents--her Indigenous father or her white mother--must die as part of a "culling" that has decreed that one-third of the population must be exterminated.

I think it's a very interesting choice to fuse the dystopic YA genre (Stephanie's defiance of her captors bears more than a hint of Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games) with traditional Indigenous storytelling conventions. However, in its current form Thompson's play is a bit of a mess. Not only do the scenes shift awkwardly between Stephanie's present in the hospital and her past memories of life with her parents, but the action is repeatedly halted to have the actors playing said parents argue with each other about the plot and solicit audience advice on how the story should proceed. Normally I have no animus against breaking the fourth wall, but here the device seems less a sincere address to, or even undermining of, audience sentiment than a glib invocation of a well-worn Brechtian theatrical conceit. Then, too, the final address to the audience which ends the play presents us with a choice as impossible as Stephanie's, one involving the small rock that each of us is handed upon entering to the theatre--and that upon exiting I could only refuse to dispose of according to instruction.

From reading the brief description of the play in the Fringe Fest program guide, and also talking to my SCA colleagues, it sounds as if Deneh's play has shifted quite radically from its original conception. There is certainly an interesting story here, but at present it's a bit hard to locate.


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