NextFest 2015: Inside Out

Caley’s had a crappy day. Or rather, a crappy few months as she’s been in and out of the hospital, through steroids and surgeries, trying to get her digestive tract back on track.

In Inside Out we watch 17-year-old Caley, who is diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, navigate not only relationships with her friends, family, and doctors, but also her own vulnerabilities.

Running at just over an hour and presented as part of NextFest, Inside Out is a story that’s not told often. It’s the story of coping with a disease, yes, but it’s also about how that disease affects a young person.

Typically when we see plays about disease, they’re from the perspective of someone more mature. Plays by and about adults dealing with diseases can be equally as funny, but can tend to get weighed down in the very adult worries that come with being sick: Who’s going to pay the bills? How do I handle seeing my aging parent’s health decline? How do I talk to my kids about this disease? But Caley is a teenager and Inside Out doesn’t forget that. Instead, Inside Out treats Crohn’s disease in a serious, but approachable way. Case in point: Caley is worried about the chance of death associated with the surgery the doctor recommends for her, but she’s also worried about scars on her stomach. The script itself is not frivolous, but it feels honest because it doesn’t shy away from either the teenage insecurities or finding the humour amongst the serious parts of Caley’s situation.

The majority of the script is interactions between Caley and her I.V. pole. At first, I wasn’t a huge fan of this approach, but the more we get to know Caley, the more her conversations with the I.V. pole play to her sense of whimsy and still youthful imagination. It’s also another way that Inside Out emphasizes that it’s a play about a young person’s experience of a disease.

Inside Out at NextFest features a very strong performance from actress and writer Caley Suliak. As the sole performer, Caley plays the perfect mix of a teenager realizing her own mortality and vulnerability for the first time and someone who is perpetually chipper. I also loved her portrayals of the host of doctors, nurses, family members, and friends surrounding her character throughout her time in the hospital. From the perpetually out of breath colon doctor to her straight-forward, no-nonsense mother, these portrayals added some variety and physical levity to the show.

Inside Out is presented with an adequate set and enough props to make its point, but one thing this particular production could have benefited from was some additional lighting cues. The lighting cues used in this performance were almost too quick and gave the impression of an unintentional change, rather than the passing of time or scene change. I walked out of a play without a real sense of time and thus without feeling that I fully understood the character’s experience. In this case, better understanding the time frame of the various scenes would have helped build even more of a sense of the character’s mental and emotional states throughout the play (How long has she been waiting to see a doctor? How long has she been in the hospital?), which would have added to my understanding of what she physically experienced.

Inside Out plays three more times at Campus St. Jean (8406 – 91 avenue): June 11 at 9:00 p.m., June 12 at 10:00 p.m., and June 14 at 8:00 p.m.

Tickets are $10 per show, $18 for a day pass or $40 for a festival pass and can be bought by phoning the Theatre Network box office (780.453.2440) Monday – Friday, noon – 5:00 p.m. and in-person at Campus St. Jean 1 hour before the performance. Day and festival passes can be bought online or in person through Tix on the Square.

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