By Amanda-Marie Quintino
Arts & Entertainment Editor
This play is no yawner. Insomnia, premiering tonight at the Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, will make you think — and keep you tossing and turning for nights.
When Insomnia took to the stage almost a decade ago, it awed audiences with its crafty manipulation of lighting and impressively imaginative sets.
Last month, the play received rave reviews at Calgary’s Grand Theatre, where it ran from Oct. 11 to 21.
Fiona Highet, a Ryerson theatre graduate and the play’s female protagonist, hopes it’ll have the same effect on audience members during its Toronto showing.
But with its thoughtful scripting and inventive delivery, there is no doubt it will. The play takes an in-depth look at the haze and craze of a series of common contemporary crises through a fog-filled microscope.
“It’s really funny and smart,” says Highet of the play, which was originally produced by The Augusta Company in 1998 and then revived for the Festival de Théâtre des Amériques in 1999.
“It’s a strong reflection of what a troublesome life can be like,” she says. “Insomnia holds up the mirror to people in a really fresh and challenging way, and that’s why I love being in the show. I love the affect it has on the audience. I love the trip it takes them on. And I love driving that rollercoaster for them.”
Highet, who graduated from Ryerson’s then three-year theatre program in 1993, plays the grounded wife of a hopelessly helpless insomniac.
“She has a lot of escape fantasies,” explains Highet. “Gwendolyn is stuck in a marriage that’s in a really bad place, with her husband working through some relationship and work stress, processing all of these things through the filter of sleeplessness and so these problems become exaggerated.”
With a deliberately dream-like atmosphere mixed subtly with undertones of sadness, Insomnia, created by Daniel Brooks and Guillermo Verdecchia, directors of the Noam Chomsky Lectures, is the day-to-day dramatization of a man’s tortured psyche – the story of someone who finds himself lost in his own identity and immensely hurt by the realities the world forces upon him.
The scenes switch back and forth in time, making for some confusion – a reflection of the chaos in the lives of the play’s characters.
John F., played by Brooks, stays awake through darkness, doing wacky things like taking baths at 5 a.m. and scribbling thoughts and phrases in his journal, yearning to one day experience the admiration of an accomplished author.
The sleepless, could-be writer, suffers from depression and disdain. Hit with the tumultuous waves of a drowning marriage, the birth of a new child and a concerning political malaise, John F. envies his traditional, white-collar brother William (Randy Hughson), a successful businessman, lusts for his cold and narcoleptic sister-in-law Kate (Colombe Demers), preferring her to his ever-supportive spouse Gwen (Highet), and stresses about his professional future.
“It’s a deep, torturous plot that takes the audience through John’s journey,” says Highet. “It gives out information in the most innovative way I’ve ever seen carried out on stage. The characters just capture you, catch your attention and teach you lessons.”
But the play’s hierarchy is not human. The key elements of Insomnia include incorporating an intense dance sequence, and complimenting the play’s plot of torment with the appropriately harsh sounds and settings.
The technical talent on and behind the stage help create a powerful production that adequately demonstrates disaster with music and sound well taken care of by Richard Feren, set design put together by Julie Fox, and innovative lighting techniques worked by Andrea Lundy.
“The lighting, the sound, and all of the other special effects used in the play are so strong and expressive and brave,” explains Highet. “They’re a huge part of telling the story. The audience may well have the scales fall from their eyes when they see the kinds of things the directors have planned on stage.
“It’s the type of play you learn something from, the type that keeps you thinking.”