When the temporary technical battles of the very first show of the 2020 Next Stage Theatre Festival had been won, Ophira Calof’s opening night of Literally Titanium presented us with another war: one waged between her own mind and body.
Troublesome DNA has left her with titanium in her spine to help hold her head up. She also uses a seriously cool power chair to transport her around the stage, making loops with vigour and grace.
Calof’s dream of becoming a famous opera singer was temporarily derailed by her body’s inability to support the physical challenges. However, her body feels that the real lack of support was from her mind, and its refusal to listen to the body’s needs. Her heartfelt, irreverent, and ultimately moving show gives that body centre stage, allowing it to tell her story.
Calof splits herself neatly between mind, or “Mind-y,” and “Body” to showcase the divisiveness between them – and also the folly in trying to behave as though there can really be a separation. As a person with a chronic illness, I felt this device expressed the battle succinctly and effectively. When the physical self begins to fail, it’s very easy to see one’s body as a betrayer of the self, rather than a part of it.
Appropriate for the play’s themes, the production fully embraces the ethos of accessible theatre. It offers a wide variety of measures to ensure the comfort of audience members with varying needs – including alternate performances for those whose sensory needs are mutually exclusive.
Calof builds in water and rest breaks for herself as a performer as well, making space for these moments instead of hiding them, and using them as fodder for comedy and thought. She is an engaging performer and immediately establishes a winning, friendly rapport with the audience, introducing herself and briefing us on the events to come. Her comedic and physical timing is on point. Sometimes her “Body” voice gets a little affected and stagy in a way that feels cautious, but that’s easy to look past in the laughter.
Calof intersperses descriptive and nicely detailed stories about her birth, schooling, and struggle with illness through thematically-appropriate songs, from opera to pop to musical theatre. She has an impressive range, and her brassy belt was a particular pleasure in slightly-altered numbers like “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” It’s clear how much she lives through singing. Her deadpan translations of the lyrics to the melodramatic “O Mio Babbino Caro” were also delightful.
While I really enjoyed the musical numbers as a whole, I felt they didn’t always add as much to my experience as the developing personal story. That was sharing something which felt fresher and newer – and I wanted more, on balance.
Near the end of the piece, things take a turn for the meta and serious. There are particularly poignant observations about the feelings that surface when one’s entire self is deemed “pathological,” wrong, unfit for society. As a response to this, taking up space on stage is Calof’s body’s right, and I’m glad she’s given it the chance.
- Next Stage Theatre Festival performances are being held at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St.)
- Single tickets are $18 (tickets purchased online or by phone are subject to a $3 fee). Money-saving passes are also available. See website for ticketing information.
- Showtimes on the Literally Titanium listing.
Photo of Ophira Calof by Tyra Sweet