Q & A: Playwright and Actor Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman

The Varsity: Can you tell me a little about your latest Factory Theatre production, Scratch?

Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman: Scratch is about storytelling. It’s about the struggle to try and capture an experience, and the impossibility of that act, because truth is always moving. Scratch follows the epic battle of fifteen-year-old Anna and her unstoppable case of head lice as she re-tells the story of her mother dying of cancer. They begin to overlap completely, forcing her to accept the inevitable.

V: You’ve been developing Scratch since you were 16. Looking back at those initial drafts, what significant changes have occurred in your writing between then and now?

CCC: Well, in terms of my voice as a writer, a lot has changed. I’ve grown up, so naturally there is wisdom in reflection and I have better comic timing as I have suffered through more personal humiliations. I went to the National Theatre School for playwriting and wrote non-stop for three years. I learned a lot about my voice in those three years. Scratch has been through a lot of changes, but I have tried very hard to stay true to the urgency of the teenager who wrote it. I have come to understand that the power of the play lives in the immediacy of the teenage experience, as well as the electricity of my grief at the time.

V: The play is based on your own experiences—not purely autobiographical, but certainly motivated by personal events. Did you find that there were particular challenges in mining from your own life?

CCC: Not when I wrote it—it just came out of me like a storm. I didn‘t look at it until years later. When I finally did revisit it, it felt very imaginary, a sixteen-year-old’s projection of what she thought her truth was. What I have found the hardest about telling a personal story is the press and their questions and assumptions. People naturally want to know how much is true, and no matter what you tell them, they think it all is anyway. Truth is belief. I struggle to let go and know that people will think what they want to think, and that the ones who are close to me know this is a play, and that Anna is not me.

V: Scratch won the Herman Voaden (National Playwrighting) award in 2007—in your experience, how have people responded to the play? How do you hope audiences will respond to the play?

CCC: People have responded to the honesty of the piece. In my experience, when you put something out into the world that comes from a true place, it opens others up, allowing them to engage with their pain, giving us an opportunity to feel something all together for a little while. This is the power of theatre to me, a shared experience.

V: You are playing Anna in this production at Factory—how do you feel performing your own writing? Has it been more or less of a challenge?

CCC: Because I have seen three workshops of this play and not been in it, I felt I could enter it as just an actor. I do understand Anna and am not afraid of the contradictions of her character, but I have still had to work hard as an actor interpreting a text because the way you hear something in your head as you’re writing it is not necessarily how it should be said. The magical thing about theatre is that it is a “coming together,” so you must leave room in your writing for lights and direction and the voices of others. I’ll tell you one thing though—it has been extremely hard to memorize my lines and there is a blow job scene in my play (so embarrassing) so I certainly have done my fair share of cursing the writer.

V: As a writer and performer, how important do you think it is to produce material that comes from a more vulnerable place?

CCC: I think it is extremely important to risk something in your work. And whenever we take risks as an artist, we are extremely vulnerable. So, yes, I think it is essential.

V: Can you tell me a little about working with the Factory Theatre and the whole cast of creative people who’ve come together to produce Scratch?

CCC: It has been a wonderful experience, I love the Factory. I could not hope for a better cast, I love them as people and as performers so deeply, and I feel so safe with them on stage. Their sheer talent protects me and their love and compassion keeps me grounded. Plus, they are all deadly funny. I trust [director] ahdri [zhina mandiela] completely, which is another reason why I felt I was able to enter this play as an actor. Ken Gass has been extremely generous, insightful, and supportive, and dramaturge Iris Turcott has been my guardian angel from the get-go.

V: I imagine you’re pretty busy right now, but are you writing anything at the moment?

CCC: Yeah, I can barely remember to take out the recycling. But before I started rehearsal I was working on a collection of short stories entitled “I’ve Slept in Every Room But the Kitchen…”

Scratch runs until November 2nd in the Factory Theatre Mainspace. Tickets are $20-$37. Sundays are PWYC. For more information, visit www.factorytheatre.ca.

A push-and-pull game of love

If there is one word to describe the Bush administration’s approach to North Korea, it’s “clumsy.” Last week, North Korea made headlines when it barred inspectors from examining its Yongbyon nuclear facilities. This strategic move elicited the desired effect: on October 12, the White House announced that it had removed the country from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. The administration couldn’t abide a nuclear North Korea, and because of its concession, it lost diplomatic leverage.

North Korea has once again allowed the inspectors into Yongbyon, but problems are far from over. Inspectors are only allowed to examine the Yongbyon reactor (which uses plutonium-based technology) despite suspicions of a separate uranium enrichment program elsewhere. Disabling the Yongbyon reactor would mean nothing if North Korea acquired nuclear capabilities through other means.

Why is the U.S. so concerned about North Korea’s nuclear capabilities? Do they really expect the country to attack with nuclear missiles? These questions stem from the popular notion that the Bush administration is paranoid, and convinced that every non-friendly state is out to assassinate Uncle Sam. The truth is that the U.S. is more worried about its own military bases in South Korea and Japan getting bombed than it is about an attack on American soil. If North Korea has nuclear capabilities, it could start a serious arms race in East Asia. Nuclear bombs might be placed in South Korea, as they were during the early Cold War, and Japan might to follow suit.

The North Korean government has deliberately established itself as irrational. It’s as if they are announcing, “Yes, we are crazy enough to drop nuclear bombs, and we don’t care whether you bomb our citizens in return.” Policymakers’ beliefs fluctuate with regard to whether or not this is in earnest. When North Korea threatens to go over the edge, it wants to be pulled back, and the U.S. did just that. Some Asian bloggers have dubbed the U.S.-North Korea diplomatic dance as a “push-and-pull game of love.” It’s a silly metaphor, until you consider that the opponent is as enigmatic and unpredictable as North Korea.

As some policymakers have realized, the U.S. and its allies need to use more carrots than sticks when dealing with North Korea—oil and food, to raise the stakes and aid the country’s citizens. For now, North Korea’s brinkmanship diplomacy seems to be working. But brinkmanship can only go so far before disaster erupts—an open, diplomatic dialogue is necessary for a peaceful solution. The Bush administration’s removal of North Korea from the state-sponsored terrorism list was a misstep, but a concession. In return, the nation should consider allowing the U.S. and its allies to examine other parts of its territory—if they really want peace and economic security, that is.

Blues hit the ice

It was a rough start for the Varsity Blues men’s hockey team at Varsity Arena last Friday. Despite out-shooting the Guelph Gryphons by a near 2-to-1 margin in the first period of their season opener, several defensive miscues led the Blues to an early deficit. The team fought back, going into the first intermission with a 2-2 tie.

“We didn’t start off very well,” conceded long time head coach Darren Lowe. “We were a little nervous in the first period. But we got through [it] which I thought was really important. We played well in the second period.”

The Blues shook off their initial nerves to net a 7-3 victory over the visiting Gryphons. The four-goal outburst in the second period was led by talented first-year forward Byron Elliott, who notched the eventual game-winner on his third tally for the hat trick. Also scoring for the Blues were rookies Kyle Ventura and Paul Dupont, while fourth year forward Joe Rand capped the scoring in the third period.

“It feels good to get started on a good note,” grinned Elliott after the game. “[It’s] better than not getting any points at all.”

“It’s really exciting to see some of our first year guys scoring today like Dupont, Ventura, and Elliott,” said sophomore goaltender Russ Brownell, who made 21 saves for the win for Toronto. “That’s a great sign for us and I hope we can just keep it going.”

The go ahead goal for the Blues was scored two minutes into the second period on a beautiful pass out of the Blues’ zone to Kyle Ventura, who made no mistake on the partial breakaway. This goal was the result of the Blues playing a fast fore-checking game, noticeably absent from the first period, but soon became a constant source of frustration for the Gryphons. Consistently outplayed, the Gryphons were unable to control their emotions and fell into penalty trouble, highlighted by the gross misconduct assessed to Guelph’s Barrett Brook at 16:07 of the second period. The Blues used these opportunities given by Guelph to quickly pot their fourth and fifth goal to finish 3-for-6 on the man advantage. Toronto closed out the middle period with a short-handed marker from Dupont while Rand was in the box for tripping.

Despite warnings from the coaching staff going into the final period, a stream of sloppy penalties plagued the team. Only the brilliance of the penalty-killing and goaltender Brownell’s stand-up play kept the Blues from falling into their own trap. Emotions continued to run high after several confrontations broke out between the players, cumulating to a ten-person scrum along the right boards that delayed the end of the game by a few minutes as officials worked to separate players.

“We kind of started settling down even though we were supposed to play the whole 60 minutes,” said Elliott. “We were doing some stupid things, [taking] bad penalties; but for the most part we just kind of laid back. We didn’t keep pushing and pushing.”

With more than half of its roster either first or second-year players, the game was a lesson in development for the Varsity Blues. With likely growing pains, there is plenty to look forward to from this young energetic group.

The Varsity Blues hockey team are now 2-0 on the season, defeating the Brock Badgers 3-1 at Varsity Arena on Saturday. First year forward Claudio Cowdrey scored the game-winning goal on the power-play in the second period, while Russ Brownell made his second consecutive start with a stellar 34 save-effort, and was named Blues player of the game.

Election Watch 2008: Crying in our beers

The Longest Yard, at Davisville and Mt. Pleasant, is definitely an appropriate venue for election-watching. A large chart on the wall shows the projected seat totals for the night. My heart sinks right away as I read the expected results: a Tory minority with more seats than the NDP and Liberals combined. Any hopes for a coalition (however unlikely) to topple Harper are dashed before the night even begins. A Tory majority is a distinct possibility, and 155 is the magic number—It’s going to be a rough night.

At this point I wish I was watching playoff baseball instead.

Alex: “Both my parents voted NDP…I voted Liberal. It was a really difficult decision.”

Rob: “You moderate.”

Jade’s family split the left vote between four parties. I get the feeling that the same thing is happening in ridings all over Canada.

The countdown to poll closing has begun. The CBC is using a Telestrator. It makes this silly spectacle seem more like sports—it’s appreciated.

Jade fills in the predicted seat total betting pool. She leaves the Liberals 60 seats before revising her estimate. Math difficulties aside, it is hard to gauge what the end results might be.

A: “You’re predicting 138 seats for the conservatives? Really? That’s pessimistic.”

Jade: “Being a pundit is hard.”

Strombo is now onscreen, doing a lame darts and laurels segment. I get the feeling we’re going to run out of darts soon. The CBC talking heads fiddle with fancy graphics and talk about Twitter and Facebook. We become distracted. The smartest woman in Canada brings us back to speeD: Chantal Hébert is talking and we all listen.

Rob tells us a story about how he worked for the Joe Volpe campaign in 2004.

R: “Suffice to say, I didn’t vote for Joe Volpe this year.”

The first of several sad newsflashes rolls in: Elizabeth May lost her valiant battle against Peter McKay. Even in defeat she is impressive. We are sad that she lost.

A: “I love her scrappy attitude. I love how messy she looks. When she comes to the fore she is so pulled together.”

Early results say 24 seats for the Liberals and 17 for the Conservatives. This lead will not hold.

ChandleR: “I voted for Olivia Chow. Maybe I should have voted for Chester Brown.”

We laugh, but not for long. It is 9:50 and the Liberals are already losing badly.

Dan: “What time is it?”

R: “A third of the way to a Conservative majority.”

Ontario’s results are coming in.

R: “Markham?!?”

D: “Seriously, Oshawa?!?”

J: “Niagara let us down.”

We pound our fists on the table when Trinity-Spadina appears on the screen. It’s a close race.

It’s not even 10 p.m. and the Conservatives have broken 100 seats. Mansbridge delivers the news: the Conservatives are already predicted to win the election, the only question is whether it will be a majority or minority. We boo loudly and receive a solidarity boo in response. More beer is ordered immediately.

We discuss the possibility of moving to the States if Obama wins.

D: “Austin, Texas is nice.”

A: “Athens, Georgia!”

C: “I’m moving to Sweden.”

The election already a forgone conclusion, we sink further into our seats and beers.

D: “It’s like watching a slow-moving, non-exciting train wreck.”

It’s 10:08 p.m. The Conservatives are beating the Liberals 118-71. The Bloc have more than half the number of seats the Liberals have.

D: “We are getting skunked.”

Trinity-Spadina comes up again. The Liberal candidate, Christine Innes, is actually winning. A loud “YES!” erupts from the bar. This man clearly played the long odds and may win big.

Jim Flaherty is winning in my home riding of Whitby. Damn that little leprechaun. Although I guess it makes sense for a leprechaun to be in charge of Canada’s finances.

The projected results are becoming dangerously close to a Conservative majority: 132–74. Most patrons’ faces are sullen.

At least Justin Trudeau won in his riding. We wonder when he’ll be experienced enough to helm the rapidly sinking ship that is the Liberal party. An interesting fact edifies us all: the NDP have never won a seat in Quebec.

Then we learn something else: it turns out Wendy Mesley and Peter Mansbridge used to be married.

R: “How can they talk about politics when they’ve done everything else?”

Bob Rae is talking. We all hush and listen. Then, more bad news.

R: “This is coming down to the wire. The Liberals haven’t won a seat in half an hour!”

How about Tulsa, Oklahoma? I hear it’s nice this time of year.

C: “Philadelphia is the new New York.”

The results from the West Coast are rolling in. Finally, we have our answer.

J: “It’s only a minority!”

R: “We need to be really happy about this. It’s crisis averted.”

The inevitable follow-up question: Is Dion done? We quickly decide that the answer is “yes” and move on. Stéphane, we hardly knew ye.

Things are getting close again—it looks like the Conservatives have 146 seats. It seems they will not reach the threshold of a catastrophic majority. This election came way too close.

We reminisce about better times to keep our hopes up.

D: “Who was the best PM?”

A: “Trudeau. He cut our training wheels off.”

R: “But Pearson won a Nobel Peace Prize.”

J: “Laurier.”

It’s not quite 11 p.m. and the election is wrapped up. The Conservatives fall short of a majority by 10 seats. After a few minutes, the bar is almost empty.

R: “Volpe pulled it off. I don’t like him.”

A: “I feel like shit. Everything went wrong. Fuck the world—all my hopes are dashed!”

J: “Ontario let us down.”

The final numbers show they diD: the Conservatives have a larger share of the popular vote than the Libs. It’s official, then—Ontario has turned on its beloved party.

A: “We are completely voting against our own interests. We stood to lose the most in this election.”

Ignatieff turns up on the screen. He is talking like he is already leader of the Liberal party—smug and smarmy. Alex points out that he looks a lot like Henry Rollins.

Over the course of a few short hours, the fate of our country has been sealed. Rob says what we’ve all thinking as we peer into our beers, nervously contemplating the future:

R: “Liberals did badly tonight!”

Oh well. Won’t be long until the next election.

Vote-rigging the legal way

Since moving to Toronto from Michigan four years ago, I have tried to put the state out of my mind. Every once in a while, though, a morsel so juicy comes along that I have to go back and revisit my old home.

This is one such morsel.

Macomb County, one of the predominantly white counties that make up the suburbs of Detroit (and not too far from where I grew up) is one of the top three counties in the United States for home foreclosures from the sub-prime mortgage fiasco. Of these foreclosures, a disproportionate amount affect its black residents. Macomb County is also, if the pundits are to be believed, one of the “swing” counties in Michigan, itself a “swing” state in this election. Though I always knew Macomb County as the home of the City of Sterling Heights (or as I used to call it, Sterile White), and a largely conservative area, the black residents of Macomb tend to vote solidly Democratic, as do most black residents in the Metro Detroit area. These could be the voters who send Barack Obama to victory.

When I heard that the Grand Old Party had plans to put election challengers at polling places in Macomb to contest the residency of all people on the “foreclosed list,” the only thought I could think was: Jim Crow ain’t dead. He was only sleeping.

In a campaign dominated by thinly veiled racism and Islamophobia, the GOP’s decision to challenge these voters shows that the modern party of Lincoln is concerned only with perpetuating its own power. It has forsaken the country and what little remains of its democratic spirit.

In Michigan, each party has the legal right to place representatives at polling places to challenge individual voters’ rights to cast a ballot at that station. If someone is found ineligible, they are effectively barred from voting, since there is no same-day registration. In this case, it is quite clear that GOP is targeting those on the “foreclosed list”: the predominantly black Democratic voters of Macomb County. Never mind that these voters might still be living in their houses, in the process of refinancing, or living in the same district. This about victory at any cost.

The day after this story broke, the Michigan GOP announced that they had reconsidered, and will not make challenges based on the “foreclosure list.” They will engage in a practise known as “vote caging” instead, where the party sends a piece of mail marked “Do Not Forward” to an address. If the mail is bounced back, they make the challenge, and likely cost someone their vote.

This tells us a great deal about the state of electoral politics in the U.S. In a country where less than half the population votes, and where the last two presidential elections have been stolen in plain sight, politics have become synonymous with the pursuit of power for its own sake. Americans have been lulled into a stupor, made into consumers instead of citizens—and that the future of the country lies in the hands of amoral men.

Forget the wall along the Mexican border. As far as I’m concerned, build a wall along the U.S. and Canadian border, and hope the fallout isn’t too bad when the shit hits the fan.

UTSC student union finally gets prez

Where there’s politics, there’s controversy. The idiom holds true for U of T’s Scarborough Campus Student Union, where Zuhair Syed won the Fall election for presidency after being controversially disqualified from the race in Spring. After an intense campaign, Syed won with 212 votes to opponent Massey Ahmar’s 113.

Syed was disqualified in the Spring election for emailing the Elections Committee using his official SCSU account, and for sending a text message after campaigning period was over. The Board of Directors subsequently rejected this disqualification and hired Syed as the interim president until the Fall election.

The elections this October gave students an opportunity to formally elect a president.

For several years, UTSC has been notoriously apathetic when it comes to elections. This year’s voter turnout speaks for itself. On a campus with over 10, 000 students, a mere 325 students cast votes for their president.

However, Syed believes that the reason for his win has been a recent rejuvenation of student enthusiasm.

“I think students have shown that they like that what they’ve seen over the last two months. They appreciate the changes within the student union and they voted to have that continued,” Syed said.

In addition to improving student life, Syed’s platform was based on expanding the UTSC Student Centre in order to provide more student space for the increasing campus population. He hopes to work towards the addition of more food vendors with longer hours, an extra computer lab, a lounge area,and additional club offices.

“The students have put trust in our leadership and I’m ready for the opportunities ahead,” said Syed.

Freshly Pressed

TV on the Radio – Dear Science (Interscope)

TV on the Radio have always been enigmatic. Yet their startling vocal rhythms, jarring guitars, and inexplicable titles (Return to Cookie Mountain) are part of the fun of figuring them out. And damned if they can’t throw together a deadly single—anyone who could resist grooving to 2006’s “Wolf Like Me” is hardly human.

On their third album, the quintet manages to keep the funk while eschewing the prog sidelines that were Cookie Mountain’s only misstep. The biggest surprise, however, is “Family Tree,” the band’s best ballad since 2004’s achingly wanton “Dreams.” Over a hushed beat, vocalist Tunde Adebimpe murmurs the history of love, loss, and lynchings. Suffice to say this isn’t your typical Coldplay single.

Dear Science is strong all the way through to the insanely sexy closer “Lover’s Day,” in which each instrument rises to meet climactic lyrics like “there are miracles/under your sighs and moans.” You can practically hear the panties sliding to the floor.

Beneath all the desireis a band so adventurous that they deserve all the accolades that have been pressed on them for years. It’s only fitting that the boys dedicate this album to science—the most mysterious and engrossing study of all. Album of the year? Quite possibly.

—Wyndham Bettencourt-McCarthy

VVVVV

Oasis -Dig Out Your Soul (Sony BMG)

By now, most of us are sick of hearing the same deluded refrain that comes with every new Oasis album—“Their best since Morning Glory!” So let’s dispel that moronic notion right away: Dig Out Your Soul cannot be considered among the best of Oasis’ seven records. It seems chief songwriter Noel Gallagher has been searching for inspiration and grasping for straws since the coke-fuelled mess that was 1997’s Be Here Now. While it may have been decadent, unlike recent efforts, it produced noteworthy results.

With each new Oasis release, Britpop fans (myself included) pine for a return to form. Hope is offered by arguably their best single in a decade, the propulsive “The Shock of the Lightning,” but the album is undone by plodding psychedelic touchstones on “The Nature of Reality,” and “Waiting For the Rapture.”

Mercifully, there are a few highlights buried in the mire. Noel’s “Falling Down” starts as a whispery ballad and ascends to the kind of anthem that was abandoned in favour of pub ditties on 2005’s Don’t Believe the Truth. Liam’s mildly pleasant ballad “I’m Outta Time” pilfers shamelessly from John Lennon, but it’s got a hummable melody, and on a record like this one, that’s saying a lot.

Don’t let the brainwashed Britpop boosters fool you—Oasis haven’t got their mojo back, and its return is looking less likely all the time.

—Rob Duffy

Rise Against – Appeal To Reason (Geffen)

For a time in the mid ‘90s, political punk took a hit due the well being of the economy. It was hard to sell a bleak outlook on civilization when things seemed so rosy. Fast-forward to the current economic landscape, and Rise Against may finally be taken seriously.

As far as the music is concerned, Appeal To Reason is familiar territory for the Chicago quartet. The album starts off with the blistering rocker “Collapse (Post-Amerika),” designed to incite thinking man’s mosh pits all over the Warped Tour. The melodic choruses keep coming in the form of repetitive radio-friendly punk rock like “From Heads Unworthy,” which takes an up tempo verse and careens out of nowhere into a dramatic, slowed down refrain complete with gang vocals. But it wouldn’t be a proper Rise Against album without a randomly out-of-place ballad like “Hero of War,” a stripped-down acoustic number with lyrics taken from letters by soldiers serving in Iraq. Unfortunately this half hearted effort only secures Geffen’s ballad clause in the band’s contract after the success of “Swing Life Away.”

Rise Against deliver their treatises on the environment, the military, and animal rights capably and with ample conviction. They haven’t progressed much musically, but they’ve outdone their peers simply by avoiding the tired George W. Bush observations they were making five years ago.

—JP Kaczur

VVVv

Jenny Lewis – Acid Tongue (Warner)

Jenny Lewis combines introspective country-twinged songs that recall her first solo effort, Rabbit Fur Coat, with instrument-heavy, melodic gems to create a perfect combination on Acid Tongue.

The album is strengthened by a variety of contributors including Elvis Costello, Chris Robinson (The Black Crowes), Lewis’ boyfriend Jonathan Rice (pardon the gossip) and Jason Boesel (drummer for Lewis’ day job Rilo Kiley). Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward (of She and Him) make an appearance on “Pretty Bird”, with Deschanel providing backing vocals on a number of tracks. This indie-darling team up of Deschanel and Lewis seems almost inevitable—both grew up as Southern Californian actresses who eventually explored their passion for music.

Where her last solo album focused on Lewis’ mother, Acid Tongue gives us a glimpse of her father, particularly on highlight “The Next Messiah.” “See Fernando” has been around for years as a performance favorite, but only now sees the light of day on record. The album’s unquestionable standout is “Pretty Bird,” which showcases Lewis’ songwriting talent, fully formed.

Though the songs sound similar to Rabbit Fur Coat, Lewis proves she has a style all her own.

—Shauna C. Keddy

VVVV

Senses Fail – Life Is Not A Waiting Room (Vagrant Records)

Longtime screamo whipping boys Senses Fail can officially be considered rock veterans with the release of Life Is Not A Waiting Room on indie powerhouse Vagrant Records. The band members hadn’t finished high school when their first EP From the Depths of Dreams was released in 2003, yet they’ve admirably managed to stay afloat, improving their musicianship and songwriting with each release.

While their third full-length gets off to a slow start with the meandering opener “Fireworks At Dawn”, it kicks into overdrive with single, “Family Tradition.” The song functions as an entry into the annals of arena emo, complete with a massive chorus and deeply personal lyrics that read like a candid AA meeting transcript The album’s standout is the ballad “Yellow Angels,” showcasing guitarists Garret Zablocky and Heath Saraceno’s penchant for atmospherics and lead singer Buddy Nielsen’s vocals. While Neilsen’s voice has long been a point of contention (he’ll never be confused for Mariah Carey), it’s come a long way.

Senses Fail has not produced a transcendent album by any means, but it’s hard to fault a band for developing a simple, winning formula and sticking to it. They have developed from a laughing stock into a respectable band with an improving catalogue and likely, a lengthy career ahead.

—JP Kaczur

VVV

Scratch and Sniffle

About three-quarters of the way through Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman’s play Scratch, one of the characters remarks that words don’t necessarily offer truth. This not entirely-offhand comment about language’s honesty becomes illuminating in light of the fact that Scratch, while not entirely autobiographical, is based on real events in Corbeil-Coleman’s life. Any similarity to persons living or dead is purely intentional.

Scratch is about the loss of a mother, or rather, everything surrounding the loss of a parent. Composed of a mix of dialogue and monologue, the writing is fascinating and, at times, very moving in its candor. Heavily self-reflexive, the action vacillates between naturalism and (eventually tiresome) fourth wall-busting. Anna, the focalizing character played by the author, owns the story but refuses to take responsibility for its telling. By focusing on the lice she can’t get rid of, Anna allows the other figures in her life to step in and reveal facets of the tale while she sinks into her own itchy world.

Corbeil-Coleman’s well-written script delves bravely into material that feels almost too personal. The audience is thrust into a voyeuristic position, often with positive results. ahdri zhina mandiela’s direction lays emphasis on the theme of circularity within what can be known and trusted, keeping the performers observing the action from the fringes. Whether “on” or “off,” every character appears to be right on the brink of revelation.

As a performer, Corbeil-Coleman is faced with the task of playing the teenaged Anna—who’s not exactly the most likeable little lady. A selfish but dryly funny girl, Anna appears as someone who has already been through everything she’s going through. From the opening, she scratches her scalp and runs her mouth. Acting impervious to everything around her, this appearance doesn’t differ much from the woman she becomes by the play’s conclusion. Despite the lack of progression, Corbeil-Coleman is brilliant in her emotional sincerity. Her vulnerability as both a writer and actor is impressive. There was not a dry eye in the audience as the house lights rose.

All the nit picking within Scratch is aptly reflected in Kelly Wolf’s minimal design—a set of walls that grow progressively closer together, painted a dull grey with burnished silver shining under the lights.

There is much to praise in Scratch, especially the performances of Catherine Fitch as Anna’s pragmatic aunt, and Monica Dottor as Anna’s wonderfully wrought best friend Madelyn. The boundless pain that Madelyn expresses over the mother’s illness is so palpable that it creates some of the show’s strongest moments. Corbeil-Coleman’s portrayal of Anna shows an emotionally stunted teenager, whereas Dottor reflects the more vulnerable and childlike experience of losing a loved one. The least developed characters are Anna’s parents. We learn that they are artists, but they aren’t even given names—they serve only to accelerate the plot and give Anna something to butt up against.

Scratch constantly reminds us that we are watching a series of interconnecting stories that, despite their cohesion, fail to reproduce the truth. But in attempting to articulate these emotions, there’s hope that the itchy sting of grief will subside.