Review: Divisadero (Necessary Angel)

By Mira Saraf

Although I cursed volunteering to trek all the way over to Theatre Passe Muraille on night where I’d have to rely on the Queen Streetcar to avoid the icy wind from numbing my flesh, it was worth it to see Ondaatje’s Divisadero transformed for stage.

As a writer that had not only read Divisadero, but reviewed actor/alt country singer Justin Rutledge’s new album inspired by the book (featuring a song co-written by Ondaatje), I have to admit I was curious as to how they were going to transform the story to stage.

Divisadero is the story of a family – a farmer father, his two daughters (one biological, the other adopted) and the orphan survivor of a brutal murder: the boy from next door. It is about the dynamic between the sisters and the boy and an event that changes everything.

It was closer to a reading or a spoken word than a play. As in the original novel we are guided through the childhood of these three adopted siblings by the voice of Anna. The story is told largely through narration peppered with moments of music and brief interaction between characters.

The set was simple, consisting of microphones, a few chairs and a piano in the background. The costumes too were simple – reflecting the various stages of life through the three central characters.

Although the interaction in front of the microphone was a unique way to experience the story, it was nice when they shifted point of view to other characters or worked increased interaction into the piece.

For instance, Tom McCamus stole the show as the fast-talking gambler Mancini, injecting energy into his performance that added variety and interest to the show.  The bit of interaction between the younger version of Claire and the older version of Anna and between Bridget and Coop further enhanced the experience.

In addition, towards the end, it started to drag a little bit. I’m not sure how much they cut out of the book, but it might have served them to cut it down a little bit further.

That said, hearing it told like that, though a lot of it was text right out of the book, it really brought the story together for me, and enhanced the experience of the story I already knew of love and identity.


Divisadero is playing at Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson Ave) until February 20, 2011
– Shows run Tuesday to Sunday at 8pm, with an additional matinee on Sundays at 2pm
– Ticket prices range from $25 – $35, with PWYC on Sunday Matinees

– Tickets are available online, or through the box office at 416-504-7529