Being an outsider has never been so much fun. Due to the incredible thoughtfulness of playwright Chris Craddock, Carousel Players and Roseneath Theatre have an ideal vehicle to drive home the notion to young students and their elders (teachers and parents) that the weird amongst them—on either side of the generational divide—may not be suffering from chronic oddness but a mental health disorder.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) went largely undiagnosed much less properly treated for centuries. With advances in prescription drugs, the super-strange symptoms (motor mouth, outbursts of uncontrollable activity, inability to retain information) can be brought under control. If a simultaneous education and understanding also changes the reactions of family, friends and teachers of those struggling with their extra-surprising lives, the world will become a much happier, safer place.
Like survivors of Acquired bBain Injury and people living with HIV/AIDS, a little teaching goes a very long way in how the so-called normal world treats those with exceptional challenges.
Director Richard Greenblatt has taken Craddock’s passionate, zany vision and crafted a show that ranks in the highest domain of children’s theatre. He’s found the rhythm, tone and texture of the multilayered script and assembled a cast and crew at one with his ideas, creative invention and thorough understanding of what’s afoot.
Emma Hunter’s Jamie is a remarkable tour de force. The reams of mile-a-minute lines are a marvel of diction, delight and delivery. Her emotional range is spectacular: the panic-laden dream where she imagines losing her feet (the scariest section for kids of all ages) is immediately (and thankfully) dispelled by instantly shifting gears and simultaneously letting the St. Catharines audience sigh with relief (hilariously, Jamie’s pet goldfish, Mr. Wiggles V, morphed the frightened faces into toothy grins in the twinkling of a fin); Hunter’s honest portrayal of the twin demons of fear and frustration are effectively balanced by outrageous humour (the “bum” joke can’t fail to draw howls of laughter in any gymnasium across the land).
The rest of the talented troupe all performed several roles.
Aaron Willis was convincingly empathetic as the social worker, a droll wit as Jamie’s only friend, Max (despite an occasional lapse in the slight speech impediment) and engagingly tough as a bully’s in-my-own-image pop. That mean-spirited lost soul (Rock) was played by Andrew Moodie who also laid down the law as Jamie’s hard-working dad, Max’s philandering father (the reality of divorce is also handled in a sensibly open manner) and the well-intentioned school principal. The quick costume alterations (errant tie withstanding) deftly reinforced the personas even as Willis’ bully voice foreshadowed his coming metamorphosis.
Necessarily, all of the moms and the teacher (Ms. McAllister) were in the clearly delineated purview of Madeleine Donohue. Extra duty came in the form of Hardplace, where the characterization was a gender-hoot before demonstrating once again that white men can’t rap.
Kelly Wolf’s three-column set is a brilliant solution to the frequent changes of scene. Through the magic of Velcro and easily switchable panels (some rendered in word-as-sound-effect, comic book style—all the better to reinforce Jamie’s desire to be a super hero), the audience is whisked from classroom to doctor’s office to the cafeteria (replete with the admonition “When you eat – Be beat!) faster than a speeding bullet.
Laughing while learning is both an effective way of discussing difficult topics and an important starting point to real understanding. Those on the remainder of this year’s school tour are in for a special treat. In the years to come, The Incredible Speediness of Jamie Cavanaugh should be seen, heard and discussed from coast to coast to coast. JWR