by Sonia Roberts
Strokes are the second leading cause of death worldwide. The heart-wrenching film “Amour” focused on an elderly couple whose love was tested when the wife suffered multiple strokes leaving her paralyzed. As shown in “Amour,” we often associate strokes with older adults, but they are affecting an increasing number of young and middle-aged adults.
Tannis Kowalchuk, artistic director of NACL Theatre (and co-creator/actor), suffered a stroke in 2011 as she was working on her farm alongside her 3 year-old daughter. Soon after, she wanted to investigate what happened to her from both a scientific and personal standpoint, and partnered with creator/actor Bret Keyser, creator/director Ker Wells, and creator/neuroscientist Allison Waters to attempt to make sense of it in the visual, poetic “STRUCK.”
The collaborative nature of NACL Theatre’s work shines brightly in the piece’s design: the audience is smartly seated facing each other on either side of HERE Art Center’s mainstage space, and minimalistic scenic elements (sheer curtains, a simple table that morphs in functionality according to the setting) lend themselves beautifully to Stephen Arnold’s powerful, often trippy lighting design. The numerous videos and projections (creatively projected onto the curtains and other surfaces), designed by Brian Caiazza, Brett Keyser, Dana Duke, and Big Twig Studio, completed the ethereal aesthetic and added lightness and humor to ground us in reality in an otherwise impressionistic and, unfortunately, confusing narrative.
“STRUCK” is physically stunning, but would work better as an installation in a museum or as an immersive theatrical experience. The storytelling was often muddled and made the 60-minute piece seem much longer as I struggled to figure out not only what was happening but why. I longed for more character development for both Ms. Kowalchuk and Mr. Keyser’s (multiple) characters, as I could only sympathize with what I knew was a personal experience that launched the development of the project. “STRUCK” weaves the audience through dream sequences and snippets of reality that highlight memory loss, fear, joy, and spirituality, but apart from investigating what one could feel like during and after a stroke, its overall goal as a narrative felt flat and unclear.
at HERE (145 Sixth Ave.)
Wed-Sat @ 8:30pm / Sun @ 4pm
Tickets $20 at here.org