rare theatre toronto

Fringe Fest hit Rare back on stage at the Young Centre

One of the more memorable productions from last year's Toronto Fringe Festival, and now currently on stage at the Young Centre, Rare is a journey through the emotions that make us human, collectively created by nine actors with Down Syndrome. By embracing a frank discussion of how the syndrome has affected their lives, the collective has created a truly unique and compelling drama.

Directed by acclaimed Canadian playwright Judith Thompson, Rare features vignettes which focus in on the hopes, frustrations, and life-altering moments of the nine members of the troupe. What elevates the performance is the inclusion of the trauma and tragedy that has touched some of the actors — no topic is deemed off-limits and, for that, it rings with authenticity. The performances are open, honest, and sincere.

Using a series of themes to structure the performance — such as love, hope, and anger — the actors share personal recollections of the ups and downs of their lives spent battling prejudice and overcoming fears. What most likely started out as exploratory acting exercises have developed into a patchwork of poignant scenes.

In a particularly striking scene, actresses from the troupe speak about the grief they've faced. Suzanne Love delivers a heartbreaking monologue about the murder of her brother, Sarah Carney describes the plea she made for her brother's drug addiction to end, and the other members (Nada Marie Christiane Mayla, Krystal Hope Nausbaum) speak to the loss of parents and grandparents. These are stories told by daughters and sisters that consider what it means to grieve.

The most pointed moment in the show, but arguably the most memorable, is the letter from Nausbaum to expectant mothers asking them to reconsider aborting a baby when faced with the possibility of having a child with Down Syndrome. Her striking plea resonates throughout the theatre.

The more serious moments are balanced with uplifting stories of the bond between the actors and their families and friends, as well as hopes for the future. Dylan Harman Livaja, who may be the troupe's youngest performer, questions why he can never be admitted to a professional theatre school — who can blame him?

Also memorable are Nicholas David Herd, who brings theatrical flair to each and every scene, and Michael Liu, who contributes an understated yet grounded presence.

Thompson's simple and uncluttered direction places the spotlight firmly on the performances. She's helped draw out some wonderfully rich moments that, while they sometimes go to dark places, compose the types of stories we're meant to tell in the theatre. Singer/songwriter Victoria Carr, a picture of grace, accompanies the scenes on a variety of instruments.

While it may be a unique production featuring rare and talented performers, it's a troupe of actors and playwrights I'd look forward to seeing again. Their storytelling springs forth from an honest and sincere place, the likes of which is seldom seen on our stages.

Rare, written and performed by the collective, runs at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until March 2.
Photo by John Gundy

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