Created and performed by Jon Lachlan Stewart
Uno Fest, Metro Studio, Victoria
May 25 to 26, 2016
The references to Shakespeare’s women in this compelling drama, created by quick-change artist Jon Lachlan Stewart, are simply the underpinning to the contemporary issues the show raises. Lavinia is a victim of a brutal attack in which her hands were chopped off. She’s the outspoken one in a support group for women who’ve suffered physical and sexual abuse.
Shakespeare’s Lavinia appears in Titus Andronicus. She is the daughter of the Roman ruler, a virtuous woman who is raped. Stewart’s Lavinia is a punkish teen with long, straight, pink-tinted hair under a black wool toque. She introduces us to the other members of the support group (represented in framed silhouettes hung from above): Silvia, her best friend, named for Shakespeare’s character in Two Gentleman of Verona; Helena, blogger and Youtube celebrity, from Shakespeare’s unloved Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Lady Macbeth, who has a streak of violence; and the not-to-be mentioned, now absent Ophelia.
Stewart, a member of the Montreal troupe Surreal SoReal Theatre, is a fascinating performer. Tall and limber, he skips between two wigs mounted either side of the stage, transforming himself before our eyes. One wig is Lavinia’s; the other shiny hairpiece makes him handsome Proteus, best friend of Valentine (the other gentleman of Verona) and pursuer of Silvia, Valentine’s fiancée. As in Shakespeare, Proteus has a girlfriend too: Julia. While in character as Lavinia or Proteus, Stewart also impersonates others, notably deep-voiced Linda, leader of the therapy group, who’s given to dancing Elizabethan jigs and repeating words like conducive, as in “that behaviour is not conducive to recovery.”
Lavinia, an uncontrolled brat in group and a self-appointed voice for her friend Silvia, drives the script. “I don’t want to survive,” she says. “I want to live.” Proteus, on the other hand, is calm, poised and very capable of dissembling, especially when covering up a crime against his friend’s loved one, Silvia.
The show deftly raises issues familiar from the case against former CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi: what constitutes assault and how sexual assault is handled in the courts. A talk-back session is scheduled to follow the Thursday 8 pm performance of Lavinia. The play and the performance provide much material for discussion.
Also recommended ̶ before Uno Fest’s close: ana, from Victoria’s Impulse Theatre, on from Thursday through Saturday, and A Chitenge Story, a work-in-development by Makambe K. Simamba of Calgary, at Intrepid Theatre Club on Saturday at 4:30.