by Lucy Allen
For all of our efforts to bring awareness to global poverty, we all too often forget that the same issues are right in our own backyard. Project Humanity’s The Middle Place, playing now in the Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace as part of the Summerworks Festival, sheds light on the lives on several Toronto youths living in a shelter in one of Toronto’s roughest neighbourhoods. The result is an eye-opening and moving look at the individuals of this marginalized community.
The script is taken entirely verbatim from interviews conducted by playwright Andrew Kushnir. The instinct to do so is a bold choice and pays off well. The people we met, while portrayed by actors, are some of the more real and engaging characters that I’ve come across in awhile. They would approach the spotlight, sometimes guarded and hostile, sometimes shy, but always would end up sharing their perspective.
The stories of the twenty youth and three caseworkers ranged from amusing to hopeful to heartbreaking. Anyone watching will tend to gravitate towards a different character, and Kushnir seems to have also given some more of the spotlight. Kaali (played by Akosua Amo-Adem) seemed to be an audience favourite and was a prominent presence throughout. Contrasting her outgoing character was the quieter Navaeh (played by Jessica Greenberg), whose story had me and I’m pretty sure the rest of the audience near tears.
My show partner, Shannon, both agreed that all actors did a great job. They all gave subtle and touching performances and really captured the character of the people they were portraying, and did well to physically and vocally differentiate between each one. If anything, Paul Dunn as the interviewer seemed a bit flat, but I’m chalking that up mostly to the part being fairly passive.
The choreography used to indicate character changes was quick and smooth, and helped draw focus to the appropriate places. I especially enjoyed the choice to put the caseworkers outside of the simple white circle where the youths’ monologues were delivered. It was almost like putting them outside the world of the kids, only able to peer in and guess at their stories.
Shannon, who has worked with street youths before, had some issues with the ending, in which the interviewer asks each of the kids about their hopes and goals for the future. As she described it, youths in that situation tend to answer with “Chicken Soup for the Soul” answers because that is assumed to be what they should feel, not necessarily what they actually feel. Still, their need to hope for something more is evident, and the eagerness to share resonated.
The Middle Place is a glimpse into a world that many often ignore. It is, above all else, the stories of a group of people with fears, hopes and dreams as real as our own. In presenting their stories to us, Kushnir has provided not just a voice for these individuals, but a well polished and engaging show at the same time.
August 13th– 4:30pm
August 15th– 10:30pm
-Tickets are $10.
Photo provided by Project Humanity