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thirsty Review: A Poetic, Beautifully Performed Descent

By Jared Davidson on November 9, 2012

When I walked into the NAC’s main doors on Thursday night, I was greeted by a somewhat bizarre image: a row of men with long, fake beards posing for a picture, beers in hand. A glance through that night’s programme made sense of the strange tableau—ZZ Top was playing Southam Hall that night and these were their fans.

While I personally harbour no unkindness towards those bearded old men who still spin guitars in celebration of rock, I wasn’t there to see them.

Thursday night was the world premiere of thirsty, a play written by acclaimed poet and novelist Dionne Brand. Brand is the currently serving as the playwright in residence at the NAC, and she adapted thirsty for the stage from her 2002 book of poetry of the same name.

The play is based on true events. It is the story of a Jamaican man named Alan shot dead by police in Toronto in 1978. The play examines the personal life of the man—from his hopeful arrival in Toronto to his increasing desperation and disillusion.

Throughout, it is always apparent that the play is an adapted poem. The writing is poetic in the best sense: Dionne makes every word count. The characters speak lines full of force and poignancy, their interiority laid bare by the authorial voice. At times, it can become almost overwhelming, and occasionally the writing becomes a little too concerned with precision, lapsing into esoterics wherein the words-as-text take precedence over the words-as-speech—one feels the need to examine them on a page to appreciate them fully. But Dionne is able to bring it back to ground with lines of shocking simplicity and beauty. Her mastery of language is at all times apparent.

And it is through the acting and directing that this script becomes as impactful as it is. Cece Anderson, Audrey Dwyer, Andrew Moodie and Jackie Richardson, under Peter Hinton’s direction, give incredibly powerful performances. They work dynamically, taking what is a complex and difficult play and make it look effortless and natural.

Especially impressive is Moodie’s depiction of the descent of Alan, the man who is eventually shot by police. His slow breakdown is believable, every scene bringing another step along the path toward his eventual doom. His performance is frightening, at times difficult to watch. Moodie makes real the man’s loss of self, and his behaviour is at once sympathetic and disturbing.

Anderson, Dwyer, and Richardson, portraying respectively Alan’s daughter, wife and mother, are fantastic. As Alan slowly decays, their reactions are full of consistency. They display knowledge and depth of understanding of their characters.

All of this talent is framed wonderfully by the staging. The use of lighting, a product of Louise Guinand’s expertise as Lighting Designer, is artful and subtle—spot and soft lighting is used to great effect to draw the eye of the audience and to construct the emotional pallet of the scene. The same is true of Troy Slocum’s sound design, which figures prominently in the play.

thirsty is a dynamic and powerful piece. Its story is compellingly told through Dionne’s distinctive voice and through the excellent performances of its cast.

thirsty runs from now until the 17th of November. For complete showtimes, check the NAC’s website.