BWW Review: ERASER Drops Audiences Into the Chaos and Confusion of Elementary School
Eraser Theatre's ERASER, presented as part of Why Not Theatre's RISER project, is a highly interactive piece of theatre that forces audiences to walk and talk with students in a sixth-grade classroom. Directed and choreographed by Bilal Baig and Sadie Epstein-Fine, ERASER explores the lives of six students returning to school from their summer break. From this point, the story splits off based on which student audience members are assigned to, and the groups follow that student's journey and relationships throughout the interactive one-hour performance.
Because of the differing narratives, it's difficult to delve into each character's progression - so this review will be centered on Afrose's story. Afrose (Tijiki Morris) is the new student from Pakistan and operates as a sort-of catalyst to the show's action. Morris ensures that Afrose sinks into the background to avoid her classmates and balances her shyness with the confidence that comes from her first steps into personal self-discovery.
ERASER succeeds in portraying the confusion that comes with social interaction, especially for a new student from a completely different culture, through Afrose's relationships with her peers. After being assigned to a project with Jihad (Yousef Kadoura), the two begin a rocky partnership that results in an awkward presentation, leading to an outburst and emotional conversation between the two. Kadoura's ability to navigate emotional dialogue in a way that feels believable for a sixth grader is impressive, and his party trick - revealed in a game of truth and dare - earns the biggest and longest laughs of the evening.
The remainder of the ensemble is made up of classmates Noah (Nathan Redburn), Eli (Anthony Perpuse), Whitney (Christol Bryan), and Tara (Marina Gomes). The show only ever hints at what each of the characters is dealing with through rumours and the audience's ability to eavesdrop, reflecting real life as most people never know what's happening to their peers, friends, and colleagues unless those people decide to open up.
There's a great tension between Redburn and Perpuse's characters throughout the narrative, and Gomes's classroom representative campaign speech is a perfect recreation of the naïve formality that comes with the often-feared schoolwide public speaking unit. Despite not knowing her backstory, Bryan's speech following being reprimanded by the teacher is so passionate that it earns sympathy. ERASER's ability to recreate scenes and feelings from elementary school, like the awkwardness of changing for gym, using those horrible-yet-beloved square wheelie boards, and the fights that always seem to erupt at school dances - all of these experiences are perfectly executed by the cast and enhance the believability of the story, even with the audience looking on.
Due to the constant movement of groups and characters, the set is extremely minimal (set and costume design by Christine Urquhart), and actors keep their props and costume changes in their backpacks. Lighting (lighting design by Rebecca Vandevelde) is used extremely well to separate groups and set different locations in the school, including the classroom, gym, and a pool. Sound design (sound design and compositions by Maddie Bautista) contributes to the environment of group scenes, including the use of recorded footsteps signals the presence of a teacher to shift the mood quickly.
ERASER is a confusing, chaotic, and at times uncomfortable piece of work. By forcing audience members to walk with the students, listen to their innermost hopes and fears, and at times recommend a course of action it's easy to develop an attachment and almost protectiveness to an assigned guide. It's only during the high emotional moments that audiences - much like their student guides - remember that every student is dealing with their own issues, making ERASER that much more true-to-life.
ERASER runs through May 14 at The Theatre Centre's BMO Incubator for Live Arts, 1115 Queen Street West, Toronto, ON.
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit https://tickets.theatrecentre.org/TheatreManager/1/tmEvent/tmEvent261.html
Photo credit: Sam Gaetz