by Laura-Beth Bird
Theatre St. Thomas’s original production No White Picket Fence finds beauty in devastation. This verbatim piece chronicles the struggles of young women in the Maritimes and their experiences in the foster care system. The project is created through the joint efforts of lead researcher Dr. Sue McKenzie-Mohr and her team along with creative director Dr. Robin C. Whittaker.
The play retells moments from the lives of 10 young women from Atlantic Canada. The women share stories of the mental, physical, and sexual abuse that led to their entry into the foster care system and the subsequent events that followed. This 95 minutes of heart wrenchingly honest theatre pulls the audience into a world very few talk about. The work successfully sheds light on the world of the foster child, giving firsthand accounts and opinions from people who are still living with this reality. These are stories that need to be told.
With the heavy content in mind, before the show the cast takes time to speak to the audience about the topics that will be addressed and the fact that these are true stories. This not only lets the audience relax but allows them to connect with those on stage. There are no grand costumes, no tricks of makeup, just the real faces of women you could walk right past on the streets of Canada.
The stage is designed with bare city streets painted in thick white lines on the floor and miniature houses that have lights switch on and off. The actors sit upon the houses, changing their perches between acts to visually reinforce the transient nature of a child in foster care. Alongside this cityscape is shelving that references the office in which the original interviews took place. The actors also have a hand held video camera which projects actions such as cooking meth in dark corners and garbage bags of children’s clothes being unpacked on a television screen. This not only reinforces the message, but also adds another dimension to work.
True to form, Kira Chisholm as Kari gives the audience a stunningly honest performance, and Naomi McGowan as Brooklyn tugs at your heartstrings as she tells her story with the innocence of a child. It is clear that all the actors approach the verbatim scripts with care, careful to honour all the mispronunciations and turns of phrase of the real subjects.
No White Picket Fence has the potential to fall flat, but through the dedication of Whittaker and McKenzie-Mohr, Theatre St. Thomas has produced a beautiful and gripping work that leaves the audience literally crying.
This is yet another feather in the cap of this company and another fantastic creative collaboration to come out of Atlantic Canada.
Theatre St. Thomas’s No White Picket Fence ran February 1-th, 2017 in The Black Box Theatre at St. Thomas University.