Quick thoughts on This is War and Gidion’s Knot

I had a chance to take in both This is War and Gidion’s Knot this past weekend, and while I don’t have the time to write my usual 1000 word reviews on each of them, I do want to share a few thoughts about why I enjoyed both of them so much.

Andréa Jorawsky in This is War. Photo credit: Mat Simpson

Andréa Jorawsky in This is War. Photo credit: Mat Simpson

First up was This is War by Hannah Moscovitch, presented by Punctuate! Theatre. As I said in my preview, I have not heard a lot about Canada’s involvement in the War on Terror, including the time our troops spent in Afghanistan. This is War is important theatre about Canadian stories that have not been told as much as they should be. This is War centres around 4 soldiers who have returned from Panjwai district in Afghanistan. Each soldier tells their version of the 24 hours leading up to an incident that an unseen journalist is questioning them about. Through each person’s testimony and flashback memories, we get four different perspectives on that incident and a tiny peek into what the war in Afghanistan was like for Canadian troops.

This is War reinforces the fact that likely a lot of people – certainly me – have no idea what goes on during modern warfare. No idea what it’s like to have people’s lives depending on the decisions you’re faced with, especially when there are no ‘good’ options. Watching This is War is a humbling reality check.

I loved Alison Yanota and Kai Villneff’s set, which was completely covered in sand. One of the lines in the beginning of the play talks about how sandy and dusty Afghanistan was. With Alison and Kai’s set, you don’t have to imagine it – you can watch the dust rise as the actors drop their gear or kick it.

The performances of all four actors were powerful. Andréa Jorawsky’s character, Master Corporal Tanya Young, is outwardly struggling with some of the experiences she’s had, but Andréa’s performance helps the audience see beyond her character’s coping mechanisms and focus on understanding the magnitude of decisions that soldiers have to make. As Private Jonny Henderson, Evan Hall definitely made me believe he was 20 years old, fresh out of high school and small town Alberta, who is still a bit naïve about the world, but has taken on the responsibility that accompanies being in the military. Telly James’ performance as Sergent Stephen Hughes keeps the show feeling rooted in reality through the way Telly convey’s his character’s depth of military experience. While the other characters are early into their military careers and their testimonials involve a lot about their coping mechanisms, Telly’s portrayal of Sergent Hughes’ commitment to his team and the ‘brotherhood’ he feels with them provides insight into other aspects of what it’s like being in the military. I also love Telly’s delivery of a line that dispels a common assumption about what Canadian troops did in Afghanistan: “We weren’t peacekeeping” – said with the headshake and chuckle of a person talking to someone who knows nothing about the experience they’re trying to understand. Probably my favourite performance though was Joe Perry as Sergeant Chris Anders – the military doctor. In the two previous times I’ve read the play, I haven’t loved this character – in contrast to the other characters, he seemed to have it more ‘together’ and there seemed to be missed opportunities for him to step in and provide mental health support to the other characters. Joe’s performance totally changed my perception of the character, with his facial expressions showing his character’s inner turmoil in assessing how much mental health support he can or should provide to the other characters in the show without offending or insulting them. Getting these glimpses into what was really going on inside the character through Joe’s body language helped me understand and respect the character more than I did while reading the script.

I loved Punctuate! Theatre’s production of This is War, as I knew I would from the moments I finished reading it 8 months ago. It’s a play that Canadians unattached to the military should see, if for no other reason than to realise how little you know or understand about the experience of being a soldier. This is War runs until March 12 – tickets are $20 –  $25.

Liana Shannon and Amber Lewis in Gidion's Knot. Photo credit: Mat Simpson Photography.

Liana Shannon and Amber Lewis in Gidion’s Knot. Photo credit: Mat Simpson Photography.

On Sunday, I took in Gidion’s Knotwhich is presented as part of SkirtsAfire herArts Festival. Many readers will know I’m on the board of SkirtsAfire, so obviously I’ve got some bias, but I am really glad my partner and I had the chance to see the show. Gidion’s Knot is billed as a ‘parent-teacher interview from hell’, which is a pretty accurate description. In Gidion’s Knot, a parent and a teacher are meeting to essentially debate what the best way is to handle a child who doesn’t fit ‘the mould’.

When I spoke with actresses Liana and Amber about the show (check out my preview if you’re interested), Liana mentioned that when she performed it during Fringe, audience members found they swung back and forth between agreeing with the parent and agreeing with the teacher. While I didn’t find that myself in reading the script, I certainly did while I was watching the show. The playwright has written the show in such a way – with these little ‘reveals’ sprinkled throughout – and Liana and Amber perform their arguments so convincingly that I did swing back and forth between the two sides: as a teacher, do you pay attention to the individual – nurturing and encouraging those differences, or do you put the needs of the entire class first and focus on what’s common? I definitely enjoyed carrying out the debate with my partner over croissants at the cute French bakery nearby.

One thing I was worried about going into the show was whether it would resonate with me, given that I don’t have children. I needn’t have worried. The show is relevant to anyone who has ever gone through our traditional education system and it’s interesting to look back at how you fit in as a child, how your teacher and parents treated you and what difference that’s made in your own life.

The hours of debate and thought you get out of Gidion’s Knot are more than worth the $15 – $20 ticket price. And if you catch it during SkirtsAfire herArts Festival, tickets are by donation and you can debrief over drinks in the cabaret space within the Alberta Avenue Community League after the show.

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