“Tonight could be the first day of the rest of my life,” says the woman onstage clad in a strange white jumpsuit and military style boots, “Or last.” And thus begins One Yellow Rabbit’s (Calgary) production of A Fabulous Disaster, playing at Factory Theatre as part of its Performance Spring Festival until April 25th, 2010. The piece was created and is performed by Denise Clarke, an Associate Artist of One Yellow Rabbit since 1986 and A Fabulous Disaster has become her signature play. The programme touts this play as “Strange and beautiful, the show toils with love, jealousy, loneliness, acceptance and brilliant stupidity.”
Clarke’s unnamed protagonist is an exceptionally literary and articulate woman who appears to have a photographic memory. Her mind spins quickly, which propels her from thought to thought throughout her monologue in a way that sometimes appears haphazard to the audience, but it is firmly established that the connections are firm in this characters’ logic. It is immediately clear that she is somewhere in the wilderness of British Columbia and that she has placed herself in the midst of a ravaging forest fire in attempt to save the animals. She tells us that this was one of a sequence of stupid mistakes.
Amid a sea of stressed out people, our protagonist became distressed when she thought that she saw a small black cloud hanging in the tree in her backyard. As she says, when there is a small black cloud hanging in your tree it’s hard not to see it as portentous. It is soon revealed that this woman, like the animals she imagines running through the forest fires, is deeply wounded as she is mourning the collapse of her marriage. She tells us that her divorce was the second lesbian divorce in history, but it would have been better to be first; second is just a sad punch line.
With Clarke’s beautiful use of language and her wonderfully captivating performance, our protagonist shines with both strength and vulnerability as she weaves the tale for us of how she ended up in the forest among the fires. Her experience in speaking about the end of her marriage and how this launched a stupid telephone call to her ex boyfriend and a stupid plan for emotional revenge and the hope of reconciliation has a cleansing and cathartic element to it. At one point she sobs like a tired child, Clarke giving a perfect performance, and then she says, amid tears, “I accept that this experience is of the universe and a consequence of my own stupidity.” This monologue that we become privy to is an intensely personal and emotional moment in the life of a woman as she is forced to reconcile with her past in the face of the flames of the future.
A Fabulous Disaster is poignant and at times profound, but it is also a remarkably funny play. Clarke has brilliant comic timing and knows when to have her character undercut the solemnity of the situation with sheepish self-deprecating humour or a clever observation about the absurdity of the world. Beautiful imagery is also conjured up, such as how erotic it can be to see the books of two people who love each other intermingled with one another on a bookshelf.
Our protagonist is in deep physical pain, like the forest that surrounds her; her heart has been charred like a small animal. She muses on the dramatic deaths from opera and ballet and chooses to rectify one of her stupid mistakes, changing her absurd white paper suit for her birthday suit and then, elegantly, with crackling flames projected at the back of the stage, washed gracefully in dim gorgeous lighting, walks nude toward the fire, offering it her scorched heart, stunningly evocative of a phoenix on the cusp of rebirth.
A Fabulous Disaster plays until Sunday April 25th, 2010 at 2pm at the Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst Street), for more information or to book your tickets please call 416.504.9971 or go online to http://www.factorytheatre.ca