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Jane Enkin's review of Dragonfly at Rachel Browne Theatre-Highly Recommended-on until March 24

by Jane Enkin, March 17, 2019



at Rachel Browne Theatre

March 14 – 24, 2019

reviewed by Jane Enkin



Lara Rae has written a beautiful, challenging work of art. Rae is a Winnipeg comedian, TV and radio writer, producer and host. In her autobiographical play Dragonfly, she revisits episodes of her life as a transwoman, from early childhood to her transition in her early 50s. There are moments of humour in the play, sometimes bitter or ironic, but this is not a comedy. It is also not a straightforward chronology or personal history – Rae is a storyteller, exploring in depth selected fascinating times in her life.


The over-all tone of the play is of lovely and precise, clear poetry, no matter how poignant or painful the experience. And there is a great deal of pain here – The program includes “A Note on Content: Dragonfly is an autobiographical, poetic journey that uses language, memory and storytelling as tools to explore the writer's life. There are mature themes such as substance abuse, addiction, suicide and sexual violence. The language can be strong and evocative.”


Rae reveals herself as a very young child, squeezing her eyes shut to wish that she could magically become the girl she feels herself to be, a school-child struggling with identity, a self-medicating young comedian, and a mature, sober adult. While the stories are very much her own, Rae also evocatively presents her surroundings, from childhood in Glasgow to school in suburban Ontario, to a Toronto drug- and alcohol- saturated subculture in the time when AIDS was just recognized, not yet manageable but a “death sentence” in the queer community.


The character of Rae herself is shared between two brilliant actors, Eric Blais and Sarah Constible. At times they reflect the same way of experiencing what's going on, at other times they are in dialogue with one another. Rae at an earlier point work-shopped the play as two distinct acts, each with a single actor (the current script grew out of an earlier play, One Man's Show, performed by Sarah Constible in 2010.) The play as it now exists. though, seems natural, inevitable to me – so often we deal with important experiences and decisions with inner dialogue, aspects of ourselves taking different, sometimes multiple sides on an issue. So often we tell and retell to ourselves the narratives of our lives. With a great deal of variation, Constible tends to present a brash, assertive voice, and Blais a delicate, self-protective one.


Each actor also steps into the roles of other people in Rae's life – family members, teachers, a psychologist, and, in one especially chilling scene, verbally abusive police officers. Other important people including friends and lovers are described tenderly and fiercely.


The actors have the vividly effective support of director Ardith Boxall and designers Hugh Conacher, Maureen Petkau and Emma Hendrix. The minimalist white costumes and black set pieces are used in multiple ways.


Constible and Blais give wondeful performances. With their rich voices, they are deeply attentive to the rhythms of the writing as well as the wide range of emotions. There are strong physical demands on the actors, all met with apparent ease.


Highly recommended!

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