Playing alone

Zuppa Theatre’s The Debacle puts Susan Leblanc-Crawford on a pedestal. Tara Thorne looks way up.

"Bonnie Tyler's a big one," says Susan Leblanc-Crawford. "When we did the dishes, the person who dried---cause that's the shittier job---got to pick the music. So we would rock out to Bonnie Tyler and Howard Jones and Jesus Christ Superstar, and play it really loud. The stereo was in the living room so we had to turn it up---we'd often bring the speaker around the corner into the kitchen so we could hear it. And there's something really fun, thinking about those days in the '80s and '70s, about how we were then."

The Debacle is the latest production from Zuppa Theatre, starring Leblanc-Crawford as Margaret, caught by the lonely life she's made for herself, watching from afar as her family disappears one by one. Leblanc-Crawford, the youngest of five, drew on her own life to help build Margaret's story, which is not really fun, as plays go---Leblanc-Crawford air-drumming to "Total Eclipse of the Heart" is a rare moment of levity. Perhaps because its core comes from a melancholy place.

"I have a sister who lives away, and she's the only one of our siblings that lives not-here now, and I feel that she's probably lonely without the rest of our family, and I should do more to connect with her," says Leblanc-Crawford. "I should call her more often, I should go and see her---I'm putting myself on the line here, because it's sort of admitting I'm not good---but I just don't. I have this struggle with the inaction of something I know would be good for somebody and good for me. And yet, there's always a reason why I can't do that. And that became a real fascination for us, the idea something could be good and we still don't do it."

Continuing the more personal-feeling trend set by last fall's 5 Easy Steps (to the end of the world), a whirlwind pre-apocalyptic song-and-dance epic for which Leblanc-Crawford won the Best Actress Merritt, The Debacle is itself a departure from the ultra-physical Zuppa show. Leblanc-Crawford performs inside a tiny loft above the stage in the Plutonium Playhouse, where the show opened this week in tandem with SONG, from the Australian Ranters Theatre.

In those rafters, one misplaced foot would take out the 100-plus Mason jars that compose the set---there's barely room for the actor to lie down. Standing is impossible. Props must be handed up one by one.

"It does so much of the storytelling for us," says director Ann-Marie Kerr. "That gets revealed right away---'Oh, woman in the attic.'" Kerr faced similar restraints at the helm of 2B Theatre's Invisible Atom. "It was a tiny box. We'd say, 'You have to move way downstage'---which was three inches. Which was a massive gesture," she says. "I'd say 'Sue, can you crawl a little bit this way?' And she'd say, 'No, but I can do this much.' And OK, that's all we've got. That's all it needs. You end up doing more subtle physical work, in a way."

"Being up there is actually quite exhausting on my body," Leblanc-Crawford says. "After I finish the show I actually feel almost as tired as I do when I do 5 Easy Steps, which is a tonne of dancing. My legs are sore, and I feel like I've gone on a little journey. It's also mentally exhausting, I think because I'm the only one on the stage."

"We were thinking about the solo performer in a play that's about aloneness, the terror of aloneness and facing that," says Kerr. "And it's Sue's first time up---not that she's necessarily feeling that, but there's a nice connection to be made there, especially in an attic, right? Up there, alone."

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