Even more than with most plays, you are stepping into another world when you enter The Roxy on Gateway to see The Other by Matthew MacKenzie, which plays until March 13.
Megan Koshka’s set is familiar yet foreign and futuristic, looking like an abandoned home with the furniture wrapped in billowing white sheets that are reminiscent of clouds. Dean Musani’s sound design of science fiction-inspired electronic music welcomes you into this world, subtly giving you a sense of off-kilter-ness.
This is how The Other starts – by entering a space where you’re not entirely sure humans are welcome. This is the experience Sharon (played by Amber Borotsik) has had her entire life: not quite feeling at ease or welcome in this world. Although the one-liner I’ve been hearing about the show often focuses on how Sharon is always ‘the other woman’ (only being in relationships with married or engaged men), The Other is really an exploration of the many ways in which she is ‘the other’. Being ‘the other woman’ – whether that’s said as a sexy or hateful thing – is just one way she is separate from others. Sharon grew up as an ex-pat in India with an unfaithful father and a depressed mother, until her family suddenly moved to rural Alberta when she was a teenager. An unstable home life and never quite understanding the rules of social interaction in either locale where she grew up has left a life-long impression on Sharon that she re-enacts in every situation she enters into as an adult. As we go on a journey through Sharon’s past and present, we see that her series of extramarital affairs is an external expression of the feeling of not belonging she’s had her entire life. However, The Other finds her at an intersection where the outcomes of her actions are no longer working for her and she must figure out how to go on.
Like last year’s production of Bears, which was brought to life by almost the same team, The Other is an example of the perfect marriage of every element in the production to fully bring the audience into the experience of being Sharon.
Once you’ve literally stepped into the world of the play created by Megan Koshka and Dean Musani’s design, Matthew MacKenzie’s poetic script paired with Ainsley Hillyard’s movement design for the chorus and Amber Borotsik as Sharon carry you deep into the experience of being ‘other’ in so many ways.
I loved the script’s beautiful imagery that helps the audience access the way Sharon interprets her place in the world and her history. Matthew’s phrases like ‘deliciously mysterious’, ‘unapologetically depressive’, ‘quietly suicidal’ and ‘monogamy based in infidelity’ pair with the physical poetry of the chorus and stick with you long after the play. While there is a great deal of poetry in the script, it contrasts sharply with Sharon’s descriptions of the locales she grew up in – especially India. Matthew MacKenzie’s script flips the trope of exoticising the eastern world as a beautiful and peaceful place, and instead ironically exoticises it by painting a picture of a land filled with cockroaches, rats, monkeys, infidelity and death. While it’s a refreshing literary device and effective way to communicate about her childhood, this atypical view of India also underscores again how Sharon differs from others.
Amber Borotsik does a great job of bringing Sharon to life as a person who holds herself apart from others, often looking at the audience strangely, as though we’re foreign and unfamiliar. This carries through to the tone in which Amber talks about her character, aided by Matthew MacKenzie’s third-person writing style in the script – she holds a certain amount of curiosity in her voice, as though she is examining herself outside of her own body. Dean Musani’s sound design also included Amber’s voice being amplified by a microphone, which made her sound even more otherworldly. Of course, if you’ve been in The Roxy on Gateway, a microphone is technically unnecessary for the space but works beautifully as a metaphor – having Amber’s voice intercepted and reinterpreted by a machine so that even the aural human-human contact of hearing someone’s natural voice is removed.
Throughout the play, a chorus of dancers from the Good Women Dance Collective (Alison Kause, Alida Nyquist-Schultz, Krista Posyniak, Aimee Rushton, and Kate Stashko) augment the production design by bringing to life the people, objects and animals interwoven with Sharon’s story. The chorus helps the audience buy into the view of herself Sharon is describing. Because we’re hearing what it’s like to live life through Sharon’s eyes, the chorus is critical to bringing to life the characters Sharon tells us about so that we can understand how she’s seeing the characters react to her. This works particularly well in the multiple dinner party scenes Sharon describes, where she’s ‘welcomed, but not accepted’. In these scenes, the chorus members each take a different pose you’d stereotypically see at a social event – fingers cupping a chin in thought, a face frozen in a smile, etc. – and through their facial expressions create grotesque relatives of these common postures. The chorus helps us see what Sharon sees, whereas if we were left to our own imaginations, we might have ended up seeing a dinner party of people who are kindly but misinterpreted by Sharon.
The phrase that stuck with me most after leaving The Other was the one that’s been used in many of the promotions of this show: ‘longing and not belonging’. The Other serves as a reminder that the actual experience of one’s life can be a lot different than it is when seen from the outside. As Sharon examines the experiences and choices that have led her to the crossroads she’s faced with at the beginning of the play – to continue living as the other or to find another way of life – we experience the deep desire for human connection that underscores all of Sharon’s interactions.
The Other by Matthew MacKenzie is presented by Pyretic Productions and Good Women Dance Collective as part of Theatre Network’s Roxy Performance Series. The show runs until March 13. Tickets are $18 – $21 through Theatre Network, except Tuesday, March 8, when they are two-for-one.