Shed, a play written by Leah Jane Esau, which plays at the Factory Theatre Mainspace as part of the 2010 SummerWorks Festival, is based on a true story about a group of young bullies who locked another child in a shed and set fire to it.
I saw a reading from an excerpt of this play over a year ago as part of a series at the Graduate Centre for Drama at the University of Toronto, and I was immediately compelled by this dark, sordid, sexually charged scene of manipulation and intense power struggle between a police officer and a sixteen year old girl. This remains the strongest scene in Shed and I found that I wanted the rest of the play to have the same sinister momentum of desperate high stakes, where both the characters had everything to lose and both were at the mercy of the other in a twisted tangle of tainted innocence.
Erin, the sixteen year old girl who has been abandoned by the world lives with her boyfriend, an unseen figure, who is supposedly tough and terrifying. He allows thirteen year old Mitch, also discarded by the world, to live with them. I thought that Mitch and Erin’s relationship was interesting, but I wanted it to be pushed to an even further extreme, especially because the force dominating them both was unseen, I wanted there to be a firmer sense of hierarchy, manipulation, jealousy, sexual tension, desperation, love, loathing- a complex myriad of need between these two teenagers. Mitch, the lowest on the totem pole at home, in a nice reversal, becomes the bully to Jeremy, a sweet, if clueless, thirteen year old boy with a limp and a paper route, who become the victim of the fire in the shed.
There are a lot of great characterizations in this play and it was a bold choice to cast two real teenagers, Jovan Kocic and Simon Derome to play Mitch and Jeremy respectively. They brought a certain gentleness to the characters that I think older actors may have steamrolled over, but this hesitance, as though they were searching for approval and carefully considering their actions, was very reminiscent of the way thirteen year old boys behave, especially when they are the youngest within a gang of teenagers. Kocic is very effective at completely losing his composure at the end of the play in a very raw, child like manner and Krystina Bojanowski is menacing and nonsensically erratic as Erin, which makes her simultaneously vulnerable and dangerous.
The direction by Justin Madol didn’t have the decisive, emotionally charged violence that I think this play needed to really sucker punch its audience. The fight scene was sloppy and the intensity between the characters was not intense enough for me to believe that these kids were capable of killing one another. Ultimately, I think Shed can be grittier, it can push the boundaries more and delve deeper into the sordid, twisted lives of these forgotten children. I wanted to be horrified. I wanted to be outraged and disgusted, but in the end I was only surprised by how empty I felt of feeling or care. There is a gripping, compelling, emotionally devastating play in these characters and in this story for sure; and I think with a bit of revising, Leah Jane Esau will be able to bring it out to dramatic results.
Shed plays at the Factory Theatre Mainspace (125 Bathurst Street) at the following times:
August 13th at 5:00pm
August 14th at 10:00pm