Possessed, presented by Classy Little Bitch Productions at the Next Stage Theatre Festival, is a short exploration into family history, framed as a ritual. The 30-minute show is written and performed by Diana Bang, of Fringe hit SELF-ish; she portrays Sarah, a Korean-Canadian woman on the eve of her 35th birthday who is attempting to cure her shinbyeong, or self-loss, by becoming a Manchin, or shaman.
This type of spiritual healer, usually female, must originate through an initiation wherein she becomes possessed by spirits. Sarah calls on the spirits of her family, particularly those who endured or succumbed to great tragedy, in order to instigate her own healing.
The Antechamber of the Factory Theatre is small and cosy, presenting the perfect atmosphere for a small audience to become part of the ritual. Bang, wearing a stark white hanbok, begins by introducing the important concepts to the audience. She asks our names, and distributes bells on silk ribbons for us to ring during the calls to the spirits. It’s a sweet, simple, but generous way to draw the audience in to the experience while keeping audience participation minimal.
Using some hilariously modern props to represent the traditional ritualistic elements, Sarah is quickly taken over by her own third eye, then four spirits of varying relation. Thanks to Dawn Milman’s direction and Bang’s clear physical choices, such as Sarah’s critical grandmother’s stoop and carousing uncle’s sly facial expressions, it’s usually easy to differentiate between the spirits.
The spirits we get to know best are rooted in archetype; they are also vibrantly and sensitively portrayed. However, while the ritual is leavened with several moments of humour or wry familial understanding, there is a lot of trauma here to deal with in only 30 minutes, which can lead to a feeling of emotional whiplash.
One of the four spirits has a major, emotional and revealing speech almost immediately after we meet her, which means that we hear of the horrible things that happened to her before we really know who she is, and there’s not much outside of the trauma to define the character. This is also true for another character who is at the root of Sarah’s pain; I desperately wanted more details about her life experience, even if her voice was clear. Even more than this, I wanted to know more about Sarah and the cultural conflict that led her into this space.
Overall, this is a charming and moving ritual, enacted by an engaging performer. It’s also the kernel of an intriguing family saga. I hope first-time playwright Bang continues to develop the piece with dramaturg Milman, and that she finds an abundance of witnesses to encourage her on her way.
- Next Stage Theatre Festival performances are being held at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St.)
- Tickets for Mainstage/Studio/Site-specific shows are $15 and Antechamber performances are $12
- Showtimes and ticket information are available at fringetoronto.com/next-stage-festival/
- This show deals with mature themes, including violence, sexual trauma, and suicide. Profanity is used.
Photo of Diana Bang by Yvonne Chew