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The Shadows Project: Addiction and Recovery
by Rosemary Georgeson and Savannah Walling
Vancouver Moving Theatre
Russian Hall, 600 Campbell St.
April 19-29
By donation ($5-$20) at 604-254-6911

Sometimes theatre is about the art.  Sometimes it’s about the people performing it. As the title of this collaborative venture suggests, this one is about the people.

It’s also about the issues many of them face, residents of the Downtown Eastside, in their own lives or the lives of those they love.  Subtitled, the play looks at issues around addiction through the medium of shadow theatre. In the process real people emerge from the shadows of stereotype, anonymity, and invisibility.

Created by Vancouver Moving Theatre writers Rosemary Georgeson and Savannah Walling out of extensive workshops with members of the community, the show has input from many of the city’s major theatre artists: dramaturges Marie Clements and James Fagan Tait, director Kim Collier, composer Joelysa Pankanea, and musical director Ya-wen V. Wang.  Its complex design is by Tamara Unroe with lighting by Adrian Muir.

The shadow theatre effects are pretty remarkable.  Behind a large white sheet are projected drawn images of various downtown environments: streetscapes, alleys, rooms. Superimposed on them are shadows of the actors wearing grotesque masks, and the dragon that represents their addictions.  Scenes quickly change and dissolve.  Actors, drawings, and cut-out silhouettes interact and overlap with projections, lighting effects, and music.

As the plots emerge behind and in front of the screen, a chorus of about a dozen people speaks and sings to the action and the audience while a five-piece band incorporates everything from electric guitar to taiko drumming to a kazoo. These are the eloquent voices of the community.

“One man’s pleasure is another man’s poison,” the chorus chants, invoking the spirits of recovery and despair as the stories unfold.  “Think before you judge.”

Granny (Yvonne Mark), a recovering addict, lives downtown with daughter Rita (Sophia Freigang) and granddaughter Bobbie (adorable Phoebe Conway).  Another daughter, alcoholic Katie (the excellent Rachel Davis), lives on the street.  When Rita goes looking for Katie and Bobbie follows Rita, they’re all in danger.

In a parallel plot a suburban family loses its son, Gary (Grant Chancey), to drugs and the mean streets where he and Katie wrestle their dragons together. “Come out of the shadows,” the chorus implores Katie.  “It’s time.”

The temptations of the streets and of self-destructive partying, the seductions of drugs and booze, the frustrations of the social services system, the pain of young kids coping with dysfunctional homes—all these are vividly evoked, as is the humanity of the people whose lives we’re watching.  They aren’t professional actors but their commitment and bravery shine through.

“Look at what we’ve endured,” Granny concludes. “We’re not just survivors anymore. We’re warriors.”

Jerry Wasserman