There are a lot of things that we can all understand as equals because of the human experience we share. In particular Crash, Pamela Mala Sinha’s play running January 27, 28, and 29 as part of the Canoe Festival, hones in on experiences of love and loss.
Pamela, who also performs the show in addition to writing it, says Crash takes place over a span of five minutes in the mind of her character (but an hour of ‘real time’) as she has what Pamela calls a “The Year of Magical Thinking” moment. As the character (named simply The Girl) is grieving the loss of her father, she thinks back to the justice she didn’t receive after she was sexually assaulted years prior and, in that magical thinking moment, equates the idea of justice being done in her sexual assault case with being able to jump to a reality where her father is still alive.
For those not familiar with the idea of magical thinking, Pamela describes The Girl’s thought process as, “If I can do this, then it will evoke some change in this present moment. If I can just achieve this goal, if I can make something different than it is, then I can also make something different right now.” This line of thinking might not make sense to those who haven’t experienced such a visceral loss as The Girl has, but through this character, Crash explores the deep love between family members, and the trauma experienced when we lose them.
While Crash was inspired by events from Pamela’s life, she says the play explores universal human experiences. “It’s about the mourning of The Girl’s loss of power, loss of innocence, loss of agency over the outcome of the crime and also the loss of a parent – the love of that person who anchors you to the world. In Crash, even though the details of The Girl’s story are specific to her, they’re universal. These are themes of great universality in terms of the very human experience of loss and trying to make meaning from it. I think that’s what the power of Crash is. It’s not about one person – you’ll see the love of your own family, if you’re blessed with that. Or your own courage, or your own hopelessness and how we have to metabolize those things that we are unable to make meaning of because we simply must go on. There’s no answer, there’s no closure, there’s no ‘cry and feel better’. It still happened. Whatever ‘it’ is for each of us.”
While Crash addresses the experience of grief, Pamela says it does so through a lens of love. “Love is the anchor that gives The Girl reason. So she has to make sense of the world without her parent… There’s no way to soften the edges on it and I don’t want to. But it is a story that is told in the context of love… Loss often goes hand-in-hand with the what keeps us here when it feels like there’s no reason.”
Crash evolved out of “Hiding”, a short story about surviving an attack Pamela had written for the anthology Dropped Threads 2: More of What We Aren’t Told. Although she thought she had said all she needed to say in “Hiding”, however at a memorial for her father, she realized she needed to tell that story of deep adult grief in the theatre. “The thing is, I’m an actor – the theatre is the place of my deepest and most honest expression. After my father passed away, I was really trying to find a way to express my grief. The grief was large and unwieldy and like nothing I’d ever experienced before. And then it dawned on me at his memorial that I had experienced something before that was very similar to this kind of helplessness – the kind of helplessness where you can’t evoke change, no matter how much you cry. When you stop crying, you don’t feel better because nothing will have changed… It was a suspended moment of magical thinking where I thought if I could just remember who it was that perpetrated this crime against me, then maybe my father would walk back through the door. It doesn’t make any rational sense, but in that moment in my mother and father’s house, I felt that way and I had to write that out.”
Crash offers The Girl’s story to us, with Pamela’s only hope for audiences being that they will, “walk away thinking or feeling something. It’s an offering, I don’t have an agenda… It might be a real identification with The Girl. It might be feeling a little less alone in the world. It might be a validation of something that hasn’t been validated, it might be something that isn’t so positive… I don’t believe that it has any lofty truths, I don’t believe that it can effect change. I don’t believe that it has great depth. I just know that it’s a single, simple story and it makes me feel that the human burden is shared… It’s ephemeral and it’s potent and it’s scary and it’s loving… It’s a little piece of something that people recognize and I felt that from the very first day when the show went up that there’s deep, deep recognition on some level with Crash.”
Crash plays at the PCL Studio January 27, 28, and 29 as part of Canoe Festival and the Chinook Series. Tickets are $20 – $25, or you can buy an evening pass to all shows that night for $50 or a Five Pack Festival Pass for $75.
In conjunction with the run of Crash, a salon will be presented in the ATB Financial Arts Barns Board Room January 29 at 5:30 p.m., where Pamela and Director Alan Dilworth will talk about the challenges of creating public art based on personal trauma.