Review: Scratch

(Photo: Hayley Frail)

(Photo: Hayley Frail)

Scratch, directed for the KTS by Georgia Noble Irwin, is a play that makes you want to call your mom…or your partner, your sibling, your mentor. But mostly your mom.

Written by Canadian playwright Charlotte Corbeil-Colemanin 2008 as a semi-autobiographical response to her own mother’s battle with cancer, Scratch is a play that explores the many faces of grief, and how our relation to the dying changes the way we express our loss.

As Noble Irwin tells us in the director’s note: “this is Anna’s story and her feelings but it’s also much more.” Surrounding the young Anna (Chloe Kaulbach) on stage are a cast of characters, each with their own unique relationship to Anna’s dying mother (Katie Clarke). As the mother’s cancer progresses, her husband (David Woroner), her sister (Pilar Guynot de Boismenu), Anna’s close friend Madelyn (James Ersil), and the hired help, a vampyric poet (Robbie Dryer), all fall further into their own expressions of grief, leaving Anna with no time to process her own experience of loss.

At the opening of the show, you could be convinced that the show is a comedy. Kaulbach’s performance is playful and funny, as she struggles to deal with a persistent lice infection. With the diagnosis of her mother, Kaulbach’s performance takes a darker turn, but no less compelling as she moves through stages of frustration, denial, and anger.

Of course, Kaulbach is not the only person on stage. Pilar Guynot de Boismenu’s performance of the neurotic and caring Aunt is a delight to watch, as they bring an energy to the performance that keeps the audience engaged throughout the performance, which makes it all the more jarring when Guynot de Boismenu reveals a truly deep sadness waiting just below the surface of the otherwise bubbly characters.

Equally deserving of praise is David Woroner’s performance as Anna’s father, who puts on a bold face as he steps into the role of primary caregiver. Ultimately though, the loss of his wife proves too much to bear and Woroner’s portrayal of grief is perhaps the most powerful and pitiful of all.

Ersil’s performance of Madelyn progressively finds new depth, culminating in an emotionally intense monologue that leaves you in a state of shock. It would also be criminal to leave out both Dryer’s Poet (and short tenure as “Gap employee”), who injects much needed moments of humour into the production, and Clarke’s performance as the Mother, who is both a compellingly strict and caring mother at all the appropriate moments.

The set consists of six doors, one for each of the six characters, and a detailed living space through which the actors move effortlessly. Though the stage is rarely populated by fewer than four actors, the focus always stays right with the action and there is never a question where the eye should go. When not in focus, the actors become features of the scene itself that both complement and contrast with the action taking place.The overall result is an interesting and creative use of the Pit space that gives the audience something to take in, without distracting from the overall performance.

Though the overall performance is good, there were some moments that could have been sped along. Small pauses between lines and cues did slow down the performance, and a few times served to distract from, rather than reinforce, powerful moments between characters. Similarly, other small decisions—no liquid in glasses, no food in bowls—detract from the realism of the performance.

My overall verdict on the performance is that it is a powerfully emotional, well acted, and engaging production that has the audience laughing in one moment, only to be brought to the verge of tears in the next. The actors, the director, the producers, and everyone else involved in the production should be proud of their work on this show and the performance they brought to the stage. A strong opening act in the KTS regular season.

If you want to take in Scratch before it closes, you have showings on Friday, November 9th and Saturday, November 10th, at 8pm in the Pit. Tickets can be reserved online through the King’s Theatrical Society facebook page, or on Eventbrite. Tickets are $5 for students, $10 for general admission.

***Editor’s Note: The author of this piece has been involved with the KTS extensively in the past, and has worked with several of the actors involved in this performance. He had no role in the production of this piece.