Review

Cutting through the haze: Theatre Projects' Crazy Bone sometimes confounding, consistently compelling

Poet Patrick Friesen's new play explores the hazy world between dream, reality, memory and utter fiction. Determining which of those we’re hearing or seeing at any point can be confounding, but is also what ultimately makes A Short History of Crazy Bone such a compelling piece of theatre.

Patrick Friesen's A Short History of Crazy Bone blends monologue, poetry and dance in an evocative package

Tracey Nepinak delivers an electric and engaging performance in the title role in Theatre Projects Manitoba's A Short History of Crazy Bone. (Dylan Hewlett/Theatre Projects Manitoba)

A thick haze hangs in the air as the audience enters the theatre for A Short History of Crazy Bone, a new play seeing its premiere in a Theatre Projects Manitoba production.

That seems appropriate — what follows for the next 90 minutes exists in the hazy world between dream, reality, memory and utter fiction. Determining which of those we're hearing or seeing at any point can be confounding, but is also what ultimately makes Crazy Bone such a compelling piece — for those who have the patience to stay with it.

Written by Steinbach-born poet Patrick Friesen, directed boldly and stylishly by Andraea Sartison and choreographed by Tanja Woloshen, Crazy Bone is an invigorating blend of monologue, poetry and dance.

Pulling together the threads of Crazy Bone's life can be a challenge, but it's a fascinating one — perhaps not surprisingly coming from a poet, the language here is musical, evoking images and feelings more than it constructs a linear narrative.

A Short History of Crazy Bone explores the hazy world between dream, reality and memory. It can sometimes be confounding, but is also ultimately a compelling piece. (Dylan Hewlett/Theatre Projects Manitoba)

There are flashes of memory interspersed seemingly randomly through what often feels like a stream-of-consciousness monologue.

But it's clear enough that Crazy Bone (Tracey Nepinak, spectacular in the title role) is an outsider, a trickster, a woman who has been abandoned by the rest of the world — her lovers leave her, she's estranged from her daughter and the rest of society seems to shun her for her wild and fairly anti-social nature.

"People are nice to visit," she says, "but you don't wanna hang out with them."

She's also clearly haunted, as evidenced by the ghosts that surround her — represented here by a four-person ensemble (David Arial, Zorya Arrow, Arne MacPherson and Tracy Penner). The four actor-dancers literally take on the roles of animal, plant and mineral. Sometimes they sway around Crazy Bone as trees, sometimes they're the sad, silent rocks around her, sometimes they're her cats.

But often they're graceful but menacing ghosts — people from her past, or persistent fragments of memory.

Tracy Penner in A Short History of Crazy Bone. Tanja Woloshen's choreography borrows heavily from the post-war Japanese dance style butoh, sometimes called 'the dance of darkness.' (Dylan Hewlett/Theatre Projects Manitoba)

Woloshen's choreography borrows heavily from the post-war Japanese dance style butoh, sometimes called "the dance of darkness" — butoh dancers are sometimes described as looking more like shambling zombies than balletic dancers. It's a slow, measured and often unsettling style, which fits perfectly here as the restless sprits that surround Crazy Bone force her to confront her past.

Contributing to the dream-like, eerie atmosphere are Itai Erdal's bold lighting design and often unsettlingly realistic sound design from Jaymez.

Grounding it all, though, is Nepinak's outstanding performance. She finds the music in Friesen's poetic writing and beautifully conveys a woman tormented by her ghosts, at odds with the world around her and yet still sympathetically relatable. That's largely due to the surprising flashes of humour Friesen sprinkles throughout the monologue — sly witticisms Nepinak delivers with spot-on comic timing.

It's an electric, engaging performance.

David Arial, Zorya Arrow, Tracey Nepinak, Arne MacPherson and Tracy Penner in A Short History of Crazy Bone. It's not always easy viewing, but it is stylish and engaging theatre. (Dylan Hewlett/Theatre Projects Manitoba)

This is not theatre that's easy viewing — it can sometimes feel impenetrable and puzzling, and I certainly won't claim to have made sense of all of it.

But for all that, it held my interest throughout and I was ultimately glad to have taken the trip with Crazy Bone. It's not always easy, but it's worth wandering through the haze with her.


Theatre Projects Manitoba's A Short History of Crazy Bone runs at Théâtre Cercle Molière until April 8.