Reflections, Theatre

An Act of Darkness

I want to curl up into a ball and sleep for a week.

After finishing up with Purge, the latest show to hit the stage in Fort McMurray and the first one to run post-COVID, I find myself exhausted.

But it’s more than that. I feel worn – raw. As if someone is about to hit me, and I’m on the verge of throwing my arms up to block it.

I’ll be honest, it was a great feeling being in front of an audience again. The rush, the energy, the response. I can’t express how happy I was to feel that again. It was energizing and revitalizing. But holy crap, was it also ever draining! Was it always like this? Did crowds always have that much of an impact on me? I can’t remember feeling like this before. Maybe. But I have to admit, that may only be a part of it.

Looking through my experience with this show, I can’t help but wonder if the story may have hit me harder than I had thought. The characters of Purge are not good people. At least, not in a classical sense. They are flawed, they are twisted, and they have their own motivations. They have a dark nature about them, and they seem rather unapologetic about it. There isn’t a hero among them. But they are human. As an actor, it was an opportunity to flex muscles that I’ve been, for the most part, unfamiliar with. There was no laughter, no music, and no hopeful drama.

The two characters I had the pleasure of portraying in the show had little to no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Martin, the husband of the main character, was simply creepy. He’s a textbook example of an abusive husband; he doesn’t recognize boundaries at all. And while Martin doesn’t hit his wife, at least not from what we can see on stage, he does fit the bill emotionally and sexually. He tries to dominate and command every part of her life and mind under the guise of being a “good husband.” In doing so, he’s entirely oblivious to her poorly hidden and obvious disgust at his advances. More importantly, I’m not all that sure that it would matter, even if he did notice. It’s true, she uses him in return, but I don’t think that qualifies as a healthy trade-off.

The second character was a simple soldier who appears on stage for a matter of a few minutes. A man with no name. No backstory. No character development whatsoever. And yet, every time I spoke as him, I left the stage feeling as if I had been punched in the gut. It’s easy to say he was just doing his job. But the level of wickedness that he was capable of in just a few short minutes made me feel physically ill and out of breath. He made choices. He had his own thoughts. And the moment the word “whore” left my lips, my heart felt like it had been torn in half. What kind of a man is this? Who could do such a thing? I had to remind myself each and every time that it wasn’t directed at a dear friend and castmate but the character she was playing. And while the words were coming from me, they weren’t mine. That helped…a little.

We had a lot of discussion during the rehearsal process about not carrying the character’s baggage with you when you leave the stage. And likewise with how incredibly damaging it can be when you’re unable to do so. There’s a good deal of trust you need to have with your scene partners and them with you. Forgiveness is key. Because of that, we were able to make something beautiful out of something that is, in its very nature, depressing and dark. In this regard, I couldn’t have asked to be paired with a better group of people. They’ve all become family. Some of them already were.

The truth is, the characters I portrayed are unlike me in almost every way possible. They horrify and disgust me. They are terrible. And maybe, to some extent, that’s why I felt compelled to play them – because they aren’t me. But that’s also, maybe, what has me so exhausted. Purge is a human story, one that has characters that do some incredibly horrible things. And while I don’t think I would ever actually be able to do what they did, I may be capable. We all are. Because we are human.

In this, Purge succeeds.

While I may have succeeded in leaving the characters behind on the stage, the story itself has stuck with me. It’s been a long road and a difficult journey. The exhaustion will pass. But this project was an experience that I am incredibly proud to have been a part of – one that I have grown from… and one that may continue to haunt me for some time.

Virtual showings for Purge are still available July 20 – July 25th. Click the picture below for ticket info!

Cover Image Credit: Surio

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