Well, the Firehall Theatre has done it again. I, CLAUDIA is another leap-to-your-feet production. My companion said, "That's certainly a tour de force," and it certainly is. Playwright Kristin Thomson has created a pre-teen coming of age play that is unique. This production of her one-woman show is the first performed by an actress other than the playwright. The award-winning Toronto actress Michelle Polak brings Miss Thomson's characters to vibrant life.
With the use of masks Miss Polak portrays twelve year old Claudia, whose parents are divorcing, Drachman, a former actor turned school janitor, Claudia's grandfather Douglas and Leslie, her father's new girlfriend. Through Claudia and her interactions with the other characters we see her take her first tentative steps toward adulthood. But growing up is basically unsafe. As she says, "Safety . . . [is] a very big concern for me for very sickening reasons because, you know, there are vulnerable people in this society, and I am one of them."
One of the many good things about the Firehall productions is that they give the designers scope to expand their creativity. Robin Fisher's basement set with its pipes and stairs is visually interesting, as well as providing spaces for the many costume changes. Her costumes are wonderfully versatile and, along with the terrific masks, clearly define each character. Dan Rider's lighting is excellent and takes full advantage of the shirred red silk front curtain.
Michelle Polak's performance is truly amazing. She has wonderfully expressive hands and fingers and each character has not only their own voice, but also distinctive body language. Her on-stage transformations are fascinating and her characterizations so strong that the masks seem to come alive and give the illusion of flexible features.
Leah Cherniak has done a masterful job of directing this unique piece which is by turns very funny and very moving. The music choices are interesting and the pre-show music really sets the tone of the piece.
This is the first production of I, CLAUDIA in Eastern Ontario and it's an exceptionally good one. For anyone with an interest in unusual and powerful theatre, this is a production not to be missed.
On a scale of one to five the Firehall Theatre production of I, CLAUDIA at the 1000 Islands Playhouse gets five dalmations. For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.