Northern Light Theatre and Azimuth Theatre co-production
Runs until April 13
The Studio Theatre
ATB Financial Arts Barns
10330 – 84 Ave.
Tickets: Start at $20. Call 471-1586 or online at northernlighttheatre.com
It’s not often I shed a tear during a theatrical performance. However, at opening night of Northern Light Theatre’s North American premiere of 19 Weeks, I felt a tear roll down my cheek.
The fellow seated next to me brushed a sleeve across his eyes. 19 Weeks takes a searingly honest approach to abortion, and in the darkness I heard other unapologetic sniffles.
Vanessa Sabourin, the dynamic actress who took us to this supercharged moment, embodies the role of a tortured mother so eloquently and graciously it completely sucks us into the emotional vortex.
The play centres on Australian playwright Emily Steel’s experience of a pregnancy gone wrong. She is incredibly sick from the get-go. And after Emily and Chris, her partner, discover the fetus carries Down syndrome, there is the agonizing decision to terminate the pregnancy.
Director Trevor Schmidt stays away from making socio-political statements and this decision alone gives the play a powerful thrust.
The narrative is strictly the personal journey of a woman locked in a no-win situation, fielding the bureaucracy of a disjointed medical system.
Steel structures the play from week to week as the pregnancy progresses using flashbacks and flash-forwards to heighten the drama. Her life is filled 24/7 with stress, tests, more tests and phone calls that yield little information.
Through her eyes we hear about Chris, her two-year-old son Frank, sisters, parents, friends and various medical technicians.
Emily's partner is an extraordinarily supportive stand-up guy, however he, too, is grappling with his own nightmare. But in the middle of this traumatic setback, Steel also reveals humanity’s kindness that arrives from unexpected quarters.
In Sabourin’s hands, the actress lifts Steel’s words off the page and crafts a fully alive, flesh and blood woman resolved to carry the burden while wracked with guilt and pain. Surprisingly, the result is a maternal character free of self-pity.
Sabourin’s Emily projects a gentle, soft-spoken quality that somehow grounds the volatile situation she is in. Her complete and compelling honesty attracts like a magnet, and there were times I craned my neck forward determined not to miss a single word.
The actress adds significant dimensions to the character with small physical gestures – a furrowed brow, a quick twist of her wedding ring, or nervously rubbing hands against her blue jeans.
Each gesture tells its own story and reveals the character’s state of mind and emotional well-being even as it lays bare Sabourin’s seamless integration into the role.
Schmidt not only directs, but also designs a child-friendly, candy-coloured set. It so neatly juxtaposes the darkness surrounding the termination, it almost asks the question, “What if …?”
But 19 Weeks does not take sides. Through every stage of Emily’s character arc, a core of strength builds until the closing scene where her reflections come full circle.
19 Weeks plays at Studio Theatre in ATB Financial Arts Barns until Saturday, April 13.