By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
If you think that the last two years have kicked the crap out of satire, think what they’ve done to speculative fiction. Or existential crises.
With I Don’t Even Miss You, premiering in RISER Edmonton’s 2022 series, Tiny Bear Jaws, those intrepid theatrical explorers, sink their teeth into our collective sense that the familiar is suddenly incomprehensible. That the world has changed fundamentally for no discernible reason, and somehow wriggled out of every off-the-rack size of meaning that meaningful comes in. Its connections may be as global as the internet, but they are now, both literally and figuratively, ungraspable (not to say unhuggable).
Basil (they/them), the hero of Elena Belyea’s new play, wakes up to discover that the world has gone contact-less overnight. It’s now in practice a transaction with the digital. They’re in familiar surroundings but they are suddenly, utterly, alone. Basil has to make their own fun — not to mention create friendships, family, romance, love, gender, formerly byproducts of human connectivity — from memory, or digital ether.
Can it be done? Can it be sustained? I Don’t Even Miss You wonders about that. And Basil gives it their best shot.
Their continuing resourcefulness will hit your heart and give it a crank. It’s a show that speaks in an original way about a predicament that has suddenly elided into … life. I’ve found I Don’t Even Miss You an experience that’s hard to shake off afterward. But then, as we know from productions like Cleave or Miss Katelyn’s Grade Threes Prepare For The Inevitable, when you see a Tiny Bear Jaws show you’re apt to leave with little bite marks on your psyche.
Basil (Belyea herself, and Sarah Emslie at some performances) is the star of their own show, a performer in the production they create, moment to moment, in live performance, dance, music, video, for an audience that is theoretical. Call Basil a life impresario, if you will. Collaborating on a multi-disciplinary ‘musical’ about aloneness is a particularly theatrical kind of contradiction, one that intrigues the playwright and a bevy of creative technical design collaborators among them Tiny Bear Jaws producer/ video and sound designer Tori Morrison, director Emma Tibaldo, lighting designer Daniela Masellis, choreographer Gianna Vacirca.
In their punchy, exuberant dance numbers, Belyea’s Basil, small but fierce in a blue snowsuit (costume designer: Whittyn Jason), exercises an unstoppable urge to perform. In Vacirca’s movement tracks, they do mighty battle with the invisible — a celebratory assertion of the will against, what?, the improbable? the inevitable? the air? The rhythmic electronic pop score, which divides into songs in Basil’s new ‘musical’, is the co-creation of Belyea and Morrison (with Miranda Martini).
Can you even call I Don’t Even Miss You a solo show? Basil shares the stage with the digital assistant they’ve created. Orchid (the voice of Vanessa Sabourin) is an A.I. who’s programmed to manage Basil’s digital memory bank, onscreen captioning, music. And in the course of I Don’t Even Miss You, in which time has the weird fluidity that we know from our last two years — what? is it Tuesday? a month has gone by? — their exchanges evolve. “Orchid, play Tonight,” or “Orchid, pause recording” become something more human, more shared. Orchid can chat; Orchid can play your favourite music if you’re upset.
In front of a double-screen like big pages of an open book, Basil presents their autobiography as a succession of short “chapters.” They breezily juxtapose innocuous titles like “Family” or “Birthdays” or “Puberty” with titles like “Survival” or “Basil’s Worst Day … a day that began like any other.” And we know where that’s led.
When you’re all alone, like Basil, little things, like the last bite of your mom’s stash of chocolate chip cookies, are momentous. The chapters are separated by lists of small, ordinary “things I’m grateful for” — bathmats, piñatas, fanny packs, watermelon seed spitting contests … — and Basil’s energetic dance musical numbers.
Belyea has written before now about the tension between belonging and having your own identity. If Cleave and Everyone We Know Will Be There are close-ups, the one a family and the other a teen party, I Don’t Even Miss You ups the ante on self-creation and self-reliance. It’s life as a ritual of memory and performance in which you have to step up to create and program your own stage partners, make your own lists, write your own signature tunes, and dance your own dances — against a backdrop of fathomless loneliness. The rest is silence.
I Don’t Even Miss You
RISER Edmonton 2022
Theatre: Tiny Bear Jaws
Written and performed by: Elena Belyea (Sarah Emslie at some performances)
Where: Co*Lab, Community (Arts) Laboratory, 9641 102 A Ave.
Running: through May 4
Tickets and masking and vaccine requirements: commongroundarts.ca