Stuff, Traverse Theatre, Review
Stuff opens with sounds whooshing together all at once: a childlike piano melody, a melancholy aria, a gunshot. A chorus of five women set the scene, describing the sights around them in what has come to be a hoarder’s house. Behind them, a projection of towers of papers overlaps their faces, a metaphor for what these towers of papers have done to Magda/Mags, a woman shuffling and sorting papers alone in her overwhelmingly crowded house. The literal setting is comprised of five chairs and a solitary doll.
The distinction between Magda and Mags is stressed often throughout the piece. Magda is a musician, a mother, a sister, a daughter, a wife. Mags is a shell of Magda, holding onto her stuff that she feels defines her, everything immensely and equally valuable from a treasured doll from her native Croatia to a pizza advertisement from the post. For this rehearsed reading, we are witness to Mags as she struggles to regain Magda on the day that the Council has come to clear away her life, her treasures, everything she feels is holding her together.
The soundscape and use of music in this work greatly elevates the piece. Rosemary Nairne and her operatic interludes that punctuate Mags’ moments of stress are carefully woven and simply beautiful. Magda’s cheerful yet tormented demeanour comes through in Carol Ann Crawford’s touching performance. The sound design by Philip Pinsky makes the world you imagine in your mind a much richer one.
Even with the opportunities for this team to delve deeper, such as with the fleshing out of relationships and defining moments where the setting is a bit unclear, it is clear that Sylvia Dow has taken great care to research and listen to the stories of real-life Magdas and to respectfully translate their experiences for the stage. Magda’s story here shows that even though there is no tidy wrap up to dealing with mental health, the hills and valleys can be faced with hope and positivity.
Theatre is the great tool of empathy, and it is touching to see this work on mental health and family struggle portrayed with care and deftness.
This show ran April 20th, 2017.