I have to confess that I was secretly (and selfishly) relieved when I found out that Kate Hewlett was moving back to Toronto -- and not because I'm a stalker. Well, at least not entirely. No, it was because I knew there might be more opportunities to see her on stage. Sure enough, it wasn't long before I learned that she was appearing in the UnSpun Theatre production of "DON'T WAKE ME".
"DON'T WAKE ME" was created by Chris Hanratty (director), Brendan Gall (assistant director), Kate Hewlett (performer), Mike McPhaden (dramaturge), and Christopher Stanton (performer). The play is being staged at the Factory Theatre, which, coincidentally, is really close to the Theatre Passe Muraille, where I saw my first Kate Hewlett play, "Noble Parasites". However, despite the close proximity of the theatres, the plays themselves have very little in common. "DON'T WAKE ME" is darker and more complex than "Noble Parasites". While "Noble Parasites" is a sci-fi dramedy, "DON'T WAKE ME" is part drama, part mystery, and part psychological thriller. It's almost reminiscent of "Wait Until Dark," only a lot more disturbing.
Like "Noble Parasites," the stage design for "DON'T WAKE ME" is clean, stark, and deceptively simple. For example, while I was skimming through the theatre programme, my eyes kept wandering to the white ropes tied to various moorings on the stage, and I wondered what their significance could be. It wasn't long before their meaning became apparent, as the protagonist, James (Christopher Stanton), is blind and uses the ropes to navigate around his apartment. On a deeper level, the ropes represent a web that has ensnared James, for the more he struggles to discover the truth behind the attack that blinded him, the tighter the web grows. The audience also gets some sense of the world James wakes up in after he loses his eyesight, as the stage is completely black and lighting is used sparingly. In fact, with the very Spartan stage design, most of the colour, texture and aesthetic appeal of the play comes from the cast.
With a cast of three actors, Kate Hewlett and John Cleland were required to play multiple characters. While Christopher Stanton portrays the one character, James, throughout the course of the play, Kate Hewlett portrays Alice (a street nurse), Mavis (Mr. O's assistant), the Trumpet (a singer), and Grace Winslow (an actress). John Cleland plays even more characters. He's Hammer (James's friend), Mr. O (the editor of the paper), the Fedora (a Sam Spade type character), a bartender, and Dougie (an actor). With so many characters in the play, you might expect numerous costume changes, but, once again, this aspect of the play remains very simple.
A new character is heralded by the addition or removal of an article of clothing. Alice wears a sweater over her dress, while the Trumpet removes the sweater and wears a bright red scarf instead. Hammer wears a regular shirt and trousers, and the Fedora wears a fedora (big surprise) and a trench coat. However, even without these wardrobe aids, it isn't too difficult to determine which character is which because Kate Hewlett and John Cleland endow each character with different mannerisms, speech patterns, and even accents. To give an example, Kate Hewlett speaks in a loud, brassy New York kind of accent for Mavis, while her slow, sultry tones as the Trumpet instantly brings to mind a femme fatale.
I think the Factory Theatre is the perfect venue for "DON'T WAKE ME". It provides a small, intimate space that makes you feel as if you're more closely involved with the events taking place on stage. It's like having access to the deepest, darkest recesses of James's mind. In fact, given the tiny space of the theatre, you are essentially trapped inside James's mind: a fascinating but rather terrifying place to be.
Psychology aside, there are definite advantages to watching a fringe play. For a very affordable price, you can immerse yourself in a potentially powerful and thought-provoking play. While the theatres are often smaller, you can pretty much have your choice of seats if you arrive early enough. I sat almost smack dab in the middle of the third row and had a superb view of the stage. At one point, Kate Hewlett was standing near the edge of the stage, maybe seven or eight feet away from me. I was pretty much in the poor woman's sight-line. Frightening for her but awesome for me.
I'm not a stalker. I'm really not.
As much as I admire UnSpun Theatre, I should probably point out that their website leaves a bit to be desired. For one thing, it didn't provide an accurate address for the Factory Theatre. I mean, 125 Adelaide Street doesn't do you much good when there's an Adelaide Street East and an Adelaide Street West. I had to go off and search for my own address for the Factory Theatre, which is actually on 125 Bathurst Street (e.g. Bathurst and Adelaide Street West).