Struck: in brief
Actor and NACL artistic director Tannis Kowalchuk stars in a piece—created with writer Kristen Kosmas, director Ker Wells, costar Brett Keyser and neuroscientist Allison Waters—that explores her rehabilitation after a 2011 stroke.
Struck: theater review by Helen Shaw
The North American Cultural Laboratory (NACL) show Struck seems, at first glance, to be a simple, charming multimedia work, full of singing, sudden bursts of Icelandic and a whimsical, rather fairy-tale sensibility. Yes, it deals with a woman felled by stroke—much of the otherworldly wanderings take place in a snowy landscape she dimly remembers (or has invented) from childhood. Things are clearly dire: In one projection, an ice princess turns suddenly into a neurologist offering only scanty hope. “That's between you and your god,” she keeps saying, as the woman (Kowalchuk) asks for reassurance that normal function will return.
But the overarching impulse seems to be joyful, with self-consciously poetic monologues about flowers, love and playfulness itself. The deviser-performers Kowalchuk and Keyser draw on familiar physical theater traditions, transforming with a pair of snowshoes, worn in a variety of configurations, into an Icelandic heroine and a smoking quasi-angel, respectively. Director Ker Wells sends projections in from every direction, and the stage, almost empty, glitters with a bit of fake snow and a series of traveling, gauzy curtains. It's sweet but light—by the end, the thing has almost completely effervesced.
Yet Struck, appropriately, can hit you all of a sudden. Just when it does so depends on when you realize that the woman at its heart—Katherine, who has had this sudden cerebrovascular accident—is being played by the stricken woman herself. In the program Kowalchuk talks about her 2011 stroke, one which left part of her brain irretrievably damaged. It's obviously moving to see how profoundly she has recovered, to realize while her avatar-character has trouble unbuttoning her coat, Kowalchuk herself is graceful, quizzical, funny, earthy…whatever the part requires.
But there's a little something more than admiration at work. Theater, the ancients have been insisting all along, can provide a model for a virtuously conducted life. The work itself—its gestation and process, its joie de vivre and outright silliness—offers us a metric for the actual, practical application of resilience. And it's hard not to find that striking.—Theater review by Helen Shaw
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