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Another Emily Pearlman play, another imaginary world | Collapsible by Mi Casa Theatre

By Brian Carroll on December 13, 2013

In a world…
where people have abandoned their decisions to a higher authority, what happens when there is no time to consult that authority? What will they do? What will be the consequences? 
In a play heavy with blunt allegories, there is a danger of the play sinking under the weight of its own didacticism. One thing saves this production from that: the children of the New Edinburgh Community and Arts (NECTAR) Centre Youth Drama Program. These 5 to 10 year olds act as Greek Chorus in the play, as well as guides who direct the audience through the various rooms and floors of the old building that houses the Centre.
These children offer the audience of this play (as in theatrical) opportunities to play (as in child’s), to the delight of the opening night audience. 
According to the director’s notes, this is not necessarily a play for children. But it is an opportunity for adults to become as little children. They get to choose whether to follow the children’s leads… 
or not.
Another Emily Pearlman play, another imaginary world.
Let me introduce you to this world. It’s a village where the citizens rely on the Great Grandfather (Andy Massingham) to make their decisions for them. The decisions can be trivial: fish or chicken? They can be consequential: should I marry this person? He lives in a house on a tall hill centred in a ring valley where the villagers reside. To seek his guidance, the villagers must climb the hill. Which they do, some weekly, some daily.
The villagers live in houses as we do. But they divide their society, not by craft or by neighbourhood, but by room. The kitchen people live only in kitchens. The bathroom people live only in bathrooms. The rec room people live only in basements.
Then comes the flood. 
At the start of the show, the Chorus lets us choose between The Secret Lair and The Dilemma Room. This is the first of many choices the audience members must make. (It’s a choice with little consequence, since the Chorus eventually leads all the audience through The Secret Lair and they all eventually end up in The Dilemma Room.) The Secret Lair consists of two special effects rooms. In one, we look from above to see the village, the valley, the hill, Great Grandfather’s house, and how the flood filled the valley. In 3D. (Take that Imax!) In the other, the guides give audience members the choice of experiencing being swept up in the flood, including how much water they experience in doing so. Only a few of the more fit accepted. (This ain’t Netflix, folks.)
In The Dilemma Room, the Chorus directs audience members each to write down a dilemma. Each dilemma has a number. There are strict rules: One Person. One Question. Two Choices. No Exceptions.
Chorus becomes excited. He’s coming! Great Grandfather is coming! He enters. He asks for our dilemmas.
But Chorus is too excited. They have a question: who started the flood? GG will have none of this. They aren’t following the rules. One person, not six! Two choices, not several. No Exceptions.
He then demonstrates his wisdom. He calls out a number, identifies an audience member associated with that number and leads said person before us all. He asks for the dilemma. Then he weighs the dilemma (literally in the form of two juice boxes). Should he choose the former, or the latter? Some decisions take three minutes, some take hours, some take days. Apparently this is one of the tough ones, and GG retreats to ponder further.
Swift and McVie on stairs.

Swift and McVie on stairs.

 

Enter our heroines, Tub (Sarah McVie) and Table (Katie Swift). Tub is of the bathroom people. Table is of the kitchen people. They carry something, lovingly. They ask Chorus where they might find Great Grandfather. They have a question for him. Chorus answers that he is away weighing a question. When will he be back? They answer. “Strange!” say Table and Tub. He used to decide in 30 seconds.

The flood has changed Tub and Table’s world.
So begins the adventure. Says Chorus: “Will you stay or will you go?”
Thanks to the precocious Chorus, this is a fun adventure. The 90 minutes passes quickly, though there are some slow bits when the traffic jams up on the stairs. And some of Table and Tub’s description of events is overly repetitive.
The adventure requires a certain amount of physical fitness. There is much stair climbing. The Centre is not wheelchair accessible, and the stairs are neither walker nor cane friendly. Keep your shoes or boots on. Some of the floors are cold. In the Dilemma Room there is a choice of adult chairs and kids’ chairs. The adult chairs run out quickly. The kids’ chairs are quite low. Some adults may find them challenging. 
Although Chorus is aged 5 to 10, Collapsible is definitely a Parental Guidance production. The content consists of life and death issues, graphically told. The Dilemma Room is in an art gallery containing some nudes. If you’re taking children, allow time after the show to discuss it with them.
Rough around the edges, Collapsible isn’t the sparkling gem that Mi Casa’s Countries Shaped Like Stars is. But Collapsible hasn’t been designed to tour (unlike CSLS which has been to 13 cities). The Chorus has participated in its creation: writing song lyrics, creating choreography, inventing machines, learning lines and drawing the world of the play. And the play has been deliberately produced to be site specific.
It won’t be the end of the world if you miss the short run of Collapsible. But then you will miss out on a fun experience. So the question for you is:
Should you stay or should you go?
You have to decide.
Collapsible by Mi Casa Theatre is playing at The NECTAR Centre (North of Mackay United Church) December 11-14 at 7PM, and December 14-15 at 2PM. Tickets on a sliding scale from $15 to $25, plus Eventbrite fees and HST. VERY LIMITED SEATING. Reservations highly recommended.