The one thing you should see this week
This week’s pick: The List
Sew buttons. Do laundry. Pay bills. Somewhere in a small town in rural Quebec, a woman is having a slow and quiet nervous breakdown. She’s making lists and checking them twice (and a third time, and a 10th time) in an attempt to hang on to her husband, her children and her sanity, which is gradually sliding away. She lines up her family’s shoes according to size. She sits in her pristine kitchen and cores, peels, boils and purées mounds of apples, stocking a pristine fridge filled exclusively with identical jars and glossy pyramids of red fruit. She tells the story of sweet Caroline, the young neighbour she may or may not have inadvertently killed.
Quebec writer Jennifer Tremblay explores a very modern dilemma in The List, her Governor General’s Award–winning play. The lone character—played by solo show specialist Allegra Fulton (Frida K.)—has built an antiseptic universe that brooks no intrusion. She is disdainful of Caroline’s messy mothering and wafer-thin emotional defences, though her own craving for kindness and contact is palpable. She bemoans a world in which friends must be shoehorned into schedules so chockablock that it’s difficult to tell which tasks are vital and which are noise, yet when asked, she forgets to lend a hand to the one person who reached out to her.
The sorely missed Fulton (she’s recently returned to the Toronto stage after years away) navigates the land mines inherent in a one-person show with ease. She captures and maintains the audience’s attention, conveying fragility, anger, guilt, panic and contempt, funnelled through gallows humour. Of course, she has great material to work with. The strength of Tremblay’s words lies in their poetic simplicity, their universality. The unnamed woman in the unnamed town could be any one of us, anywhere. We’ve become so overloaded that concern for a fellow human being manifests itself through a chore wheel, something to be consistently put off and eventually forgotten. Tremblay herself is a parent, but The List goes beyond the isolation of motherhood. It’s about the perils of getting busy, staying busy and making busywork, in a time where slowing down and taking stock has become crucial.
The details: To Nov. 6. $22–$49. Berkeley Street Theatre, 26 Berkeley St., 416-368-3110, canadianstage.com.