Monday, May 13, 2019


The opening moments of Welcome To My Underworld, in the hands of Grace Thompson (playwright & performer) paves the way for a series of stories that ultimately become a diverse and powerful sampling of all of the stories that may have been unavailable to her character had it not been for a vivid imagination and a relentless curiosity to embrace worlds that at first glance may seem very different than the one she inhabits. A complex Canadian landscape, replete wth a myriad of global experience, comes alive throughout the ensuing two hour (one intermission) powerhouse of storytelling and exquisite performance.

The first story, written and performed by Bilal Baig, takes on an elegant, subtle, and unassuming desperation and poise as a young adult faces the challenges of entering a cold landscape and a threatening cultural milieu that does not always welcome mutliplicitous gender experience. 

When Baig emerges again, the initial narrative stream that has been skilfully created throughout, takes on an intensely moving tone as elements regarding recent Toronto trauma, contained mostly within the 'queer' village, are written and performed with smouldering emotion and beautifully crafted, poetic writing. The details are not included regarding an obvious connection to the Bruce McArthur murders, but the ways in which Baig has written and performed those narrative strains takes on an inclusive and powerful tone ranging from the love of a victims mother to the sexual practices of an oppressed community of varied queer consciousness. 

Bilal Baig

This intense tone is consistent throughout in the hands of all of the playwrights and performers as the central narrator, played beautifully by Grace Thompson with varied emotion and youthful empathy, come together as individuals experiencing very different social and cultural situations, and yet uniting with a strong sense of empowerment learned thorough vulnerability and often accidental camaraderie.

l-r - Rhada S. Menon and Samson Brown

A particularly moving moment of tragicomic camaraderie shines through as Rhada S. Menon and Samson Brown embark upon a kind of Driving Miss Daisy interaction. Both performers solidly inhabit the contrast between a distressed and agonizing bewilderment regarding the present and the past (Menon) interacting with a solid and supportive driver detachment (Brown). When they reach their destination the poignancy is lightened with quick, well crafted comedy regarding the frustration of being relegated to bingo binges in late life abodes. 

This moment connects beautifully, perhaps unconsciously, to Bilal Baig's final plea regarding a fictionalized identity that finds them in an unexpected locale, rather than the initial claim made at the beginning of the play. Perhaps an unconscious connection, and yet, nonetheless, an example of how all of the stories move outward, and then back again toward an initial impulse to find resolution, or lack thereof, within each individual's compelling life force and their foreboding social, geographic, and cultural sites. 

The unifying notion of an 'underworld' bears metaphoric connections to the idea that all of the subjects being represented are speaking of the parts of their lives - (the undercurrents and the undersides) - that have been marginalized by age, ethnicity, sex, race, and gender - and how this 'under' aspect, this marginalization, can become a way of becoming one's own positive driving force within a single lifetime. A force that may move them form the underworld and not their own sense of being on top of some of life's greatest obstacles.

Grace Thompson

Carolyn Hetherington embodies the idea of life force as an elderly woman taking control over her greatest challenges within a severe medical challenge. Hetherington deftly handles a storytelling moment as she ifs effectively directed to rely on a script as well as move away from it during more performance oriented moments. A mixture of recited/read storytelling and performative/memorized acting blend well as she moves across the stage, and then into a dominant comfort zone delineated simply by a welcoming armchair where many of the performances ultimately rest. Director Judith Thompson has managed to bring all of the stories and all of the performances together in a way that occupies the stage in an enlivened and constantly varied manner.

Carolyn Hetherington

Maddie Bautista

In a varied character monologue, infused with great clarity and a myriad of voices, Maddie Bautista gives a striking virtuoso performance as she describes everything from sexuality, menstruation and the dominating presence of a powerful and severe - almost austere - educator character whose warnings are shot through with grave empathy and concern, despite her frequently and welcome serio-comic presence among the intensely arresting characters and narrative forces that Bautista brings to life with great power and entertainment value.

Similarly, Samson Brown delivers a wonderful and varied monologue whereby voices are expertly delineated and a sense of community and struggle are moved toward though the strength of a fine varied performance.

Samson Brown

Nicoletta Erdelyi

Nicoletta Erdelyi rounds out the diverse cast with a wonderful sense of moving beyond the supposed confines of physical challenge and infusing the experience with a sense of playfulness, sensuality, and self empowerment. Her blocking throughout the narrative engages the performance with a joyful sense of bodily movement as self empowered choreography.

Olivia Shortt (musician, composer, sound designer) supports the entire ensemble with beautifully sparse yet evocative sound and musical accompaniment that punctuates word and emotion with great clarity and simplicity, aided by the Monica Dottor's precise choreography that unites word and gesture with subtle grace and symbolic intent.

Judith Thompson has assembled a fine selection of writers and performers by creating a series of interwoven narratives that both stand alone and come together as a powerful tapestry of human  global experience, based frequently within Canadian settings that simultaneously transcend the specific, yet embrace designated location in powerful, entertaining, and enlightening ways.


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