By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
Something odd is happening to Jayce Mckenzie and Gianna Vacirca. Their cast-mates in Blood: A Scientific Experiment have noticed it. So has their director Brenley Charkow; ditto their producer Kristi Hansen of The Maggie Tree, an indie company dedicated to nurturing and showcasing women theatre artists.
Mannerisms, gestures add up. McKenzie and Vacirca have taken to sitting the same way: they cross their ankles and dangle their feet. They’re alert to where exactly each other is; they check in with each other by glance. They look up at the exact same time. They listen; they “play a lot with breath,” as McKenzie says.
Mckenzie and Vacirca are becoming twins. They play Angelique and Poubelle in the Meg Braem play that opens Thursday in a Maggie Tree production. And the bond between them, which seems to propel a remarkable recovery after the car accident that orphaned them, eludes the every experiment by the scientist who takes them home to investigate further. “The doctor witnesses a miracle, for want of a better term,” says Vacirca. For Angelique and Poubelle “it seems like being rescued. For a while….” says McKenzie.
Yes, there’s a mystery at the heart of Blood: A Scientific Experiment. And it has to do with siblings.“Dr. Glass (Liana Shannon) can’t figure it out; she certainly didn’t expect to wait 10 years for answers. It brings the doctor’s stakes way up,” says Vacirca. “The play calls bullshit on scientific distance.” Says Charkow, “she’s straddling a crisis of ethics.”
Human testing: there’s a branch of science that might send a little frisson of apprehension down your spine. Not least because Blood: A Scientific Romance takes place in the post-war pre-cellphone world 1952 to 1962, with the twins at age 17, and flashbacks to their seven-year-old selves. The notorious Dr. Mengele, after all, was fascinated by twins. It “feels like as a thriller,” says Hansen. “A romantic thriller,” amends Mckenzie. “A thriller about love” with a soupçon of sci-fi, says Vacirca.
“The car accident is the prologue,” says Charkow, who calls the play “a ghost story of sorts.” She smiles. “I’ve always been drawn to the dark. And people are not perfect in this play….” She’d thought about creating “a clinical white world” for the twins to live and be tested in. Instead her production opted for “the dark (isolated) farm house.”
It’s the human connection that eludes Dr. Glass. “Siblings parent each other,” says Mckenzie, who’s intrigued by the way the twins “are constantly doing what’s best for the other, trying to help the other get through…. Who loves you? Who’s responsible for you when you don’t have parents who have to love you?” Vacirca remembers that, growing up, she and her younger brother “disciplined each other.”
Meanwhile the twin sisters who hatched “in the exact same oven” as Vacirca puts it, start to develop individually. Their relationship evolves in ways that surprise them.
And speaking of experiments, originally, the play’s two doctors, the famous Dr. Glass and the young medical acolyte (Jenna Dykes-Busby) who’s tracked her down, were played by men. Charkow met with the playwright to ask her “what would it mean if they were played by women?” The playwright’s answer: “I don’t know. Why don’t you try it?” It was an apt way for a production of Blood: A Scientific Romance to start.
12thnight.ca talked to playwright Meg Braem, the U of A’s Lee Playwright in Residence, here.
Blood: A Scientific Romance
Theatre: The Maggie Tree, in Fringe Theatre Adventures Spotlight Program
Written by: Meg Braem
Starring: Jayce Mckenzie, Gianna Vacirca, Liana Shannon, Jenna Dykes-Busby
Where: Backstage Theatre, ATB Financial Arts Barns 10330 84 Ave.
Running: Thursday through Oct. 27
Tickets: 780-409-1910, tickets.fringetheatre.ca