Highly character driven, Based on a True Story follows the lives of ‘troubled’ youths and the biases attached to their lifestyle. Director Isaac Robinson and his talented ensemble examine human problems in this piece of devised theatre, as the cast animate semi-fictional characters that they each helped to write.
The audience is first thrust into Danny’s (Justin Lazarus) mind, who begins the play by breaking down the fourth wall and staring down the audience members. Indeed, the entire script boasts an awareness of the audience with its use of confessional monologues. Lazarus dynamically reveals the world through Danny’s drug-influenced eyes, and his perception of how others view ‘people like him.’ He captures the audience’s attention with his frantic energy, interspersed with glimpses of his softer side, as he talks about the love of his life, Camille (Kim Drapack). After overcoming some early nerves, Lazarus’ ability to shock the audience with Danny’s highs and lows is stunning. He is crazed, calm, vulnerable, and desperate, sometimes all in one breath—and leaves the audience wondering, “Who would Danny be if he wasn’t high?”
Opposite the erratic Danny is the hilariously loveable Stevie (Cara Krisman), his faithful second in command. Together, the two feed off of each other on the stage. Krisman’s physical performance is scene stealing, whether she is fumbling around with her much loved wine bottle, searching for “the thing that tastes like what she wants,” or espousing her desire to stay sober so that she can be an artist. She presents Stevie’s struggle with care, uncovering the layers of her character.
Caught in between Lazarus and Krisman, Drapack is sometimes lost. Her character Camille acts as a calming influence on Danny, but points out that he only ever listens to Stevie anyway. As a result, it is difficult to find a purpose for Camille, other than that her world revolves around Danny. The writing for this character is weaker than the others, as her development is left until the end of the play, and reveals more about Danny than her.
The performances of Emily Doyle, playing Judge Parks, and Michael Ruderman, as Officer Davis, are notable. They bring depth to characters who could have easily been conveyed as two-dimensional villains trying to maintain an unjust order. Like Danny, an imperfect hero, Parks and Davis are both sympathetic, staying true to Robinson’s determination to show no clear right or wrong. Ruderman is striking. His honesty is evocative, and it is hard to condemn his character’s excessively violent arrests.
Set designer David Costello captures the stark contrast between the two battling worlds, simply by breaking the stage in two. He uses the intimate space wisely. Judge Parks’ courtroom and Officer Davis’ police station claim one side of the stage, neatly decorated with poster boards, while the other is cluttered with beaten up chairs and graffiti, the latter painted by art director Vanessa Chazelle.
Although the writing is weak in some areas, causing the play to drag, the well-directed acting provides a strong backbone for this ambitious collaborative project. Based on a True Story takes a hard look at its characters, and reinforces the fact that everyone has their own demons to confront.
TNC Theatre’s Based on a True Story runs from Mar. 20 to 23 at 8 p.m., Morrice Hall (3485 McTavish). Student tickets $6.