BWW Review: HERE ARE THE FRAGMENTS examines mental illness through immersion and exploration
HERE ARE THE FRAGMENTS combines strong acting, independent exploration, and topical subject matter to create one of the most unique theatrical experiences in Toronto right now. Created by Dr. Suvendrini Lena, it's an immersive look into the life of Dr. Chauvet (Allan Louis), a Black doctor who is diagnosed with schizophrenia and psychosis after experiencing traumatic racist treatment from patients and coworkers.
The space has been completely transformed into a warehouse-like area that audience members are encouraged to explore as they wish. Co-directors Leah Cherniak (also credited as co-creator) and Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu have incorporated subtle nudges to draw viewers to scenes featuring the ensemble, most of which show Dr. Chauvet at different stages of his life before and with his diagnosis. Louis is phenomenal in the central role and navigates the difficult subject matter of racial bias in medical fields with great heart. He's equal parts heartbreaking when fully immersed in Chauvet's illness, with monologues that evoke sympathy - not just for his character, but for anyone living with a similar mental illness.
Renowned psychiatrist and philosopher Frantz Fanon (Peter N. Bailey) comes to life as one of the voices Chauvet hears - at times friendly and supportive, at other times questioning and accusatory - which only fuels the internal conflict Chauvet faces. Another character surrounding Chauvet is Ether (Kyra Harper), a woman whose terminal illness was ignored by doctors and led to her death. She's more of a ghost than anything, haunting the space with frequent monologues outlining her fear of electricity and her efforts to "help" Chauvet find freedom while undergoing treatment.
While there are plenty of scenes depicting Chauvet's past, his present seems to be focused on reconciling with Eduard (Kwaku Adu-Poku), the son he abandoned after being diagnosed. Adu-Poku brings a sense of hope to the story, and his frustration with his father is wonderfully balanced with his desire to reconnect and help him. There's a great moment in one of the smaller rooms where guests can directly interact with him that should not be missed in this open world experience.
The self-direction component of the production is a perfect fit for this story, and the combination of stage management (Tara Mohan), lighting design (Shawn Henry), and sound design (Nicholas Murray) move audience members to the right place at the right time. I found myself following the acted portions of the production, but didn't have as much time as I'd have liked to explore the curated areas - booths outfitted with audio recordings, readings, a section full of radios, and more. My guest, who has studied fine art and gallery curation throughout her university career, was drawn to those independent aspects in favour of missing some of the acting portions. Hearing about the readings and recordings she had taken in helped me find even more meaning in the performance but left me wishing the run time was just a bit longer, with more time between scenes to have made those discoveries myself.
Even without the time to explore absolutely everything, HERE ARE THE FRAGMENTS offers a deep story of which not everything can be - or should be - explained. Themes of colonization, racial discrimination, and internal conflict run deeply in this story that's about one man's relationship with himself and his mental illness; all of which exist today and are simultaneously explainable and shrouded in mystery. It's an urgent piece that demands your attention, in one way or another, and highlights the need for more inclusion and respect of people of colour not only in psychology, but in other medical and societal fields where they have been ignored and denied an equal platform to share their experiences.
The Theatre Centre and The ECT Collective's HERE ARE THE FRAGMENTS runs through December 1 at The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St. West, Toronto, ON.
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit http://theatrecentre.org/?p=13813
Photo credit: Dahlia Katz