The Debacle

sue leblanc

By Tamara Smith, Special to TWISI 

“Remember?

We were at the lake.

 You found a clear patch in the ice. You looked down and you saw a frog… frozen in its situation.

 As if he was trying to say something.” –The Debacle

Co-Written by director Ann-Marie Kerr and Susan Leblanc, Zuppa Theatre’s The Debacle shows a woman who is, like the frog, frozen in her situation. Unable to cope with her sister’s death, Margaret (Leblanc-Crawford) can’t move forward: she can’t even answer the increasingly insistent rings of the beige rotary-dial telephone. Instead, she has retreated to the attic of her childhood home, where she tries to stave off the inevitable loss by literally freezing her memories in ice-filled mason jars.

Throughout the play, Margaret’s frantic attempts to hold on to memories of her sister contrast with visual reminders that it is impossible to do so in any meaningful way. Crammed into glass jars, music is muffled, fire is suffocated, and apples cannot be tasted. And some things just don’t fit. All the while, fragile stacks of glass jars teeter precariously on the edge of a six foot drop, threatening to smash and spill their precious cargo with every move that Margaret makes.

Leblanc has an amazing ability to string together contrasting moments, snapping seamlessly between desperation, nostalgia, tranquility, and humour. Throughout these sometimes manic shifts, she maintains an honesty of emotion that makes her character’s journey equally understandable and poignant whether she’s describing the pain of losing a loved one or singing Total Eclipse of the Heart as a duet with a dead frog.

Like much of Zuppa’s recent work, The Debacle is inseparable, not only from the virtuosic performance of its star, but also from the beautifully realized space in which it plays out. Andrew Cull has designed a set for this touring version of the 2011 show that is both cozy and claustrophobic, elegant and cluttered. It interacts beautifully with Ingrid Risk’s lighting, which emphasizes visual metaphors and reflects Margaret’s shifting emotions without being too obvious or distracting.

The Debacle is a challenging piece, and audiences accustomed to more conventional representations of reality might find the external manifestation of Margaret’s internal struggle difficult to latch onto. And yet, for those willing to let go of the literal world and follow Margaret through grief and memory, The Debacle offers a uniquely moving experience. It’s fitting that a few minutes after leaving the theatre I found myself sitting in my car, scribbling frantically on the back of my program, trying futilely to hold on to everything I had just seen. Some things, you just can’t keep.

The Debacle closed on November 18th, 2012. 

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