Sunday, February 3, 2013


Special to TorSun
31 JAN 2013
R: 4/5

Pictured: Some of the RARE company

TORONTO - Normally, all theatre demands from its audience is a willing — albeit temporary — suspension of disbelief. But in RARE, playwright/director Judith Thompson has created a work that demands — and finally commands — a very willing and permanent suspension of long-held misbelief instead It is a show that more than lives up to its title, clearly well worth the investment of an hour of anyone’s time, and more. Created by Thompson and a cast of nine collaborators, RARE debuted at last year’s Fringe Festival and has been remounted for a limited run at the Young Centre, where it opened Wednesday, a production of RARE Theatre Company.

At the very start of the play, one might be tempted to observe that all nine of the performers who have collaborated with Thompson in the show’s creation — Sarah Carney, Dylan Harman, James Hazlett, Nick Herd, Suzanne Love, Mike Liu, Nada Mayla, Krystal Nausbaum and Andreas Prinz — suffer from Down Syndrome But as each member of this disciplined, but wonderfully rambunctious, group tells his or her highly personal story, interspersed with readings, dances and songs (backed by collaborator Victoria Carr), it becomes clear that what they suffer from, in fact, is not the condition that has marked them as different since birth, but rather the reaction the rest of the world has to that condition.

For, very quickly, though its manifestations remain, that shared “condition” disappears and they emerge as nine individuals, rich in love and dreams, each struggling as we all do to find and maintain a place in a complicated world. Male, female, gay, straight and of multiple ethnicities, they are each of them unique, connected too often, primarily by the doors that are closed to them. Some, like the smooth-talking Herd and the sweet-natured Carney have been friends for years, while others like the multi-lingual Mayla, who came to Canada as a refugee and dreams of returning to her native Lebanon, are newer to the group. They share, each of them, a simple dignity and grace as they — sometimes proudly, sometimes shyly — confide their heartbreaks and their dreams.

Nausbaum yearns for a child. Liu wants to keep his job. Herd dreams of meeting his Prince Charming. Love wants to be just like her sisters and Harman burns with an acting ambition that is little short of incandescent. All of which makes the simplicity and earnestness with which they discuss the pain of being seen too often merely as a disability rather than as an individual, even by members of their own families, little short of heartbreaking.

And in sharing their stories, they create a show that celebrates the life they’ve been given — lives clearly enriched as often as challenged by the condition they share. In the end, RARE is not a show about nine people with Down Syndrome, but rather a show about nine of the most extraordinary ordinary people you’re likely to find on any stage, anywhere.

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