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I, Claudia Review

April 15, 2013

If you attend theatre in this city, even occasionally, you are familiar with the name Lucy Hill. She is an emerging actor who trained in the Globe Conservatory (Class of 2008) and has appeared not only in the Shumiatcher Sandbox Series, where she has done three shows, but also in five Main Stage productions, the most recent of which was Pride And Prejudice.

But, to appreciate her developing talents, to gauge her potential, you have to see her in I, Claudia, the one-woman play, performed in mask, that was created by Kristen Thomson at Tarragon Theatre in Toronto and is directed here by Ann-Marie Kerr with design by Andrew Cull, Leigh Ann Vardy, and John Bidochka.

To say that I, Claudia is Hill’s signature piece would be premature. Her career has been successfully launched, but it is still in the formative stages, and it will be some time before we can speak of it in terms of anything “definitive.” This much, however, is undeniable: with I, Claudia, Hill has taken a giant step forward.

This production is likewise a milestone for Globe Theatre itself. Shortly after its world premiere in Toronto about a decade ago, artistic director Ruth Smillie (who is Lucy’s mother) saw it performed in Edmonton and was sufficiently impressed that she wanted to bring it to Regina. Alas, Thomson had reservations about doing this play in-the-round, and so Smillie placed it on the back burner where it had been simmering until now.

Hill has made it possible to mount this show at the Globe, for two reasons: she is completely at ease working in a space where the actors are entirely surrounded by audience, and she has studied the technique of performing in mask, a singular craft that lends a certain romance and a sense of mystery to the art of storytelling.

As a student in the Globe Conservatory, Hill studied mask (half-mask, to be precise) with Perry Schneiderman, who had earlier been an instructor of Thomson’s at Ryerson Theatre School. She also participated in a workshop in physical theatre conducted here by Kerr, her present director. Along with this, there was the month Hill spent in northern Italy last summer advancing her knowledge of mask work and physical theatre at the Teatro Della Cavallerizza in Reggio Emilia.

Hill made her debut in this genre several seasons ago with Bertha, a show she created for the Sandbox Series (it was directed by Joey Tremblay) and now she has taken on and triumphed in I, Claudia.

Briefly, the story concerns a 12-year-old girl who is beginning to mature physically but remains vulnerable emotionally, which is to say: Claudia is on the threshold of adolescence. To complicate matters, not that puberty isn’t complex enough, she is struggling to come to terms with the breakup of her nuclear family. Her mother and father have divorced, and Dad is about to marry the woman who lured him away. Claudia’s retreat is the boiler room at school, a secret that is shared only with a kindly janitor named Drachman, a theatre artist from a fictitious Slavic state on the Black Sea; he frames the play by contributing the opening and closing scenes. The other two characters are Douglas, Claudia’s grandfather, and Leslie, the “other woman.”

For Hill, the challenges are numerous, and to her credit, she overcomes every last one of them. She brings the four characters to life by giving them their own distinct voices, and with movement that ranges from subtle hand gestures to energetic dance steps. As well, frequent costume changes are required, all of which occur onstage, and I don’t mean symbolic, representational articles of clothing donned and doffed here and there; we are talking shirts and jackets, baggy trousers and tight pants, skirts and dresses, toques and caps and even a top hat. Did I mention that it’s also a prop-heavy show? Hill is forever opening things up and pulling stuff out in order to facilitate the plot.

Now, it may be a one-woman gig, but Hill is not working alone in the strictest sense of the word. She has the benefit of Kerr’s direction, and a trio of designers who have created a twilight world of sights and sounds that is every bit as engaging as the characters themselves and the intriguing story they have joined together to tell.

 I, Claudia runs from April 10 – 28, 2013. Visit the Globe Theatre website for more details, cast information, and to purchase tickets.

Nick Miliokas is a freelance writer and editor based in Regina. You can reach him by email at rozenstern@rocketmail.com.

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