This past Tuesday, the CreComm first-years were all tasked with going to see a new theatre production being put on at the Asper Centre for Theatre and Film at The University of Winnipeg. Sargent & Victor & Me is a one-woman play written and performed by Debbie Patterson, presented by Theatre Projects Manitoba. Patterson has multiple sclerosis, which has robbed her the use of her left leg.
I described the play as a sort of theatrical documentary of sort. It’s at one time a deeply personal monologue (shared by Patterson, as Gillian, one of several characters in the play) about life with MS, and then Patterson seemlessly transitions into a different character. Patterson uses her medical condition as a metaphor to describe the decline of the once vibrant neighbourhood that has been largely taken over by gangs, drugs and violence. What makes it feel like a documentary is the knowledge that the dialogue for all the other characters in the play are based off of interviews that Patterson conducted with people who live around the infamous intersection of Sargent and Victor. The play is set in a food bank at the First Lutheran Church in Winnipeg’s West End, and the stages was decorated with large round tables, a few chairs, and boxes filled with food for hampers.
Pretty much everything about the play was done wonderfully. The mood was set with music performed provided by John K Samson and Christine FellowsThe set design and lighting were carefully considered, and helped to lead the action and provide visual clues as to which character Patterson was channeling. Patterson’s performance, which I will be discussing in detail a little further down this page, was great. While some people I’ve talked to after the show said that the characters felt like broad stereotypes, I was most impressed at Patterson’s ability to really nail specific mannerisms that instantly told the audience which character she had moved to.
I have some experience with theatre, both as a performer and as a member of the audience, but I had never seen a one-person show. In some ways, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I certainly wasn’t expecting to see such a big space for just one person to explore. And despite her physical limitations, Patterson and director Arne MacPherson did a great job of fully utilizing the space on stage. I was especially impressed with her character work, given that I’ve got some experience as an improviser attempting to create compelling characters only using your voice and physical mannerisms.
Patterson spent months conducting interviews for this theatre piece. She does a really good job creating the characters on stage, but it isn’t until the very end of the play when a series of brief clips from the actual interview recordings are played that you realize just how spot on her acting was. One character, Theresa the 15-year-old gang member, could have almost been considered an over-the-top portrayal, until you hear the real Theresa’s voice and sniffs and realize that Patterson really took the time and preparation to get every little mannerism down.
The Sargent & Victor part of the play didn’t affect me too much. I’ve spent most of my life in Charleswood and the south end of the city and could probably count the number of times I’ve been in the vicinity of the intersection of Sargent Ave. and Victor St. on one hand. I could still relate to the character’s personal struggles with the state of the neighbourhood, but I was more drawn to Patterson’s own inclusion into the story.
I will admit that my knowledge on the toll that MS takes on the body is quite limited. I found Patterson to be a powerful performer, and was moved at several points during the show. The show offered a good balance between humourous moments and dramatic stories, and I was certainly drawn more towards the dramatic stories. Patterson’s ability to communicate the pain and frustration that comes with MS really hit home and left a lasting impression with me.
I was pleasantly surprised by Sargent & Victor & Me, and would recommend checking it out before it concludes it’s run at the Asper Centre on March 9.