In Pamela Mala Sinha’s Crash, presented as part of the Canoe Theatre Festival, we meet The Girl at the top of the stairs in her parent’s house during the one-year memorial for her late father, but we don’t stay with her there for long. Crash tours through The Girl’s adult experience of love and grief through memories of her father contrasted by her experience of trying to find justice for the sexual assault she survived years ago. In The Girl’s mind, the two things are linked: it will bring back her father if she can somehow just remember her attacker. It doesn’t make rational sense, but it’s what she must do in the moments before she joins the mourners at her father’s memorial.
While the play is violent and heartbreaking, Crash is also about how The Girl’s love for her father is so deep that The Girl would put herself through something that her mind and soul might not survive on the pinprick of hope given by this irrational thought that remembering the face of her attacker – and therefore the details of the sexual assault – might undo her father’s death.
Crash is told from within the mind of The Girl as she pursues this irrational thought through her grief. Like the way we naturally think, the story wanders and jumps around a lot as one particular memory triggers The Girl to remember something else. Crash is a montage of memory after memory, requiring a totally engaged audience to keep up with what The Girl is sharing in any particular moment and reinforcing that Crash is taking place in The Girl’s mind and we’re along for the ride.
It is a privilege to watch Pamela Mala Sinha’s nuanced, Dora Award-winning performance as The Girl. Pamela is a storyteller in every sense of the word as she conveys The Girl’s individual story of the universal experience of grief and love. The storytelling isn’t just through The Girl’s memories, but through folklore and dance as well. There are so many access points to the story, every audience member is going to experience something different in the play. For me, the moments I enjoyed the most were the retellings of the special moments The Girl shared with her father, where Pamela’s performance filled the room with so much love. Or the youthful enthusiasm with which she portrayed her first time living on her own and how it made it so easy to remember that experience of not having much, but being so careful and proud to ensure everything was exactly in its place.
I also admired the way Pamela interacted with Cameron Davis’ projections, which show the fragments of the attack she remembers – a crowbar, her bed, her bedroom. In these moments, it’s clear from Pamela’s demeanor that these are the moments we are in the deepest parts of The Girl’s memory – that we are seeing what she is seeing.
The lighting and sound design, by Kimberly Purtell and Debashis Sinha respectively, are equally as harsh and violent as the attack The Girl recounts, changing abruptly as The Girl shifts from memory to memory. Some of these abrupt changes in light and sound kept me jumping throughout the play, creating a sense of discomfort in a place I’m usually comfortable, which ended up being a very effective way of the design helping the audience’s experience mirror that of what The Girl experienced following her sexual assault.
Crash is aptly named. The show itself happens in a fast 60 minutes and, while it is violent and addresses tough subject matter straight on, it reminds you of the love there still is in this world and how lucky it is to have even a temporary experience of love.
Crash has two more performances in Edmonton as part of Canoe Theatre Festival during the Chinook Series. Remaining performances are January 28 at 7:00 p.m. and January 29 at 10:15 p.m. Both performances are in the PCL Studio at the ATB Financial Arts Barns. Tickets are $25 for an adult ticket to one performance ($20 student/senior), or $50 for a pass to all shows in a particular evening.
On Friday, January 29 at 5:30 p.m. Pamela Mala Sinha, performer and writer of Crash and director Alan Dilworth will be hosting a salon discussing the challenges of creating public art based on personal trauma. Attend in person or hear the conversation afterwards on the What It Is Podcast.