One of the most incredible features of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre is that so often the work that is produced there is so unique and innovative that you cannot find its equal anywhere else in Toronto. Breakfast, a play coproduced with Independent Aunties, which plays until April 4th, 2010 is one such example. There is nothing inherently unusual in creating a theatrical piece that examines a woman’s desire to transform herself into something new and to forge a better life for herself, but in Breakfast co-creators Anna Chatterton and Evalyn Parry, with Karin Randoja and director Brendan Healy thrust their audience into the strange world of the self-help tape where one woman’s identity is deconstructed, leaving only her rawest urges mixed in a blender of unfettered emotions and a complete and refreshing unpredictability.
We are introduced to Marnie, played by Karin Randoja, who sits in her very cramped, cheap and outmoded kitchen clad in a nightgown over pyjama pants under a housecoat readying herself for her morning routine of coffee and chocolate pudding as she tries to block out the sounds of her upstairs neighbours enjoying some very loud sex. She begins to listen to a cassette tape of pre-recorded self-help affirmations, which she repeats. Suddenly, the tape begins to come alive and seduces her into entering a fantasy world where she is persuaded to liberate herself from her shyness, her feelings of inadequacy and from the confines of what many would perceive as being “normative” behaviour.
Karin Randoja is absolutely adorable as Marnie. She is filled with diffident charm as she allows herself only to dip her toes in flirtatious waters, cautious and self-conscious, as she models her sexy shoes for the unsettlingly coercing voice of the tape, whose motives continually swerve from empowering to sinister. Randoja captivates the audience with sweet, damaged Marnie, who dreams of being Malibu Barbie yet, even in her deepest fantasy, remains without a Ken. She takes Marnie on a deep journey into her psyche, confronting disturbing memories from her past and probing deep into her most private thoughts. Randoja’s nuanced reactions to her changing surroundings speak volumes in providing insight into our desire to change ourselves, our longing to transform and to become someone different and to destroy the shame and the wounds of our past. At the same time, as Brendan Healy writes in his Director’s Note, the paradox is that “…despite all our efforts, we inevitably remain just ourselves.”
Evalyn Perry gives a meticulous and methodical performance as the ominous voice from Marnie’s cassette, capturing both the drone of recorded inspiration and suggesting the power such a voice has in informing the thought processes of the vulnerable and becoming the source of their motivation. Brendan Healy uses the element of surprise most effectively in this piece as it is impossible to predict Marnie’s actions, her reactions or how the world will chose to interact with her at any given moment. When she is given a knife, for example, it is unclear if she will attack herself, the cassette tape or someone else and expectancy and curiosity hangs heavy in the theatre in a way that is extremely rare in the Canadian Theatre.
I didn’t understand the significance of Breakfast’s ending- an orgy of fruit and the smothering of the voice and the Assistant with the ingredients of a strawberry smoothie, but visually it was quite evocative and created very powerful imagery of Marnie and her kitchen left in a gigantic mess of apples, strawberries, bananas and yogurt. We are left with a puddle onstage, smushed fruit and vibrant red juices like abstract art or a child’s finger painting out of which we can see images that we can make make sense of something that was purposefully intangible. I didn’t cry at the overwhelming beauty of the end without knowing why I was crying, nor could I reach some clear and brilliant epiphany regarding one woman’s liberation from domestication, and freedom from equating herself with the ingredients of a breakfast prepared for someone else and the simultaneous feelings of ecstasy and self loathing that women experience from the consumption of food. Yet, I found the ending to be riveting, nonetheless, and captivating in my inability to make perfect sense from it.
In all, Breakfast is a unique theatrical experience with a pulsing heart and that turns something as ordinary as a smoothie into something as extraordinary as life.
Breakfast plays at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (12 Alexander Street) until April 4th, 2010. Tuesday-Saturday 8pm. Sundays at 2:30pm. For more information or to book your tickets please visit www.artsexy.ca or call 416.975.8555.