Athena Stevens second play, Schism is, like its heroine a fearless contemporary drama exploring both current and timeless themes. Reminiscent of Ibsen’s Master Builder, where youth comes knocking on the master builder’s door, here we have a young woman with cerebral palsy breaking in through the architects door, challenging the older man who had once dreamed of building an impossible structure. Born with athetoid cerebral palsy herself, actor/writer Stevens takes on the extraordinary role of Katherine who is both enraging and admirable, vulnerable and ruthless.
Katherine has faced oblivion, stuck for years in a special Ed class, with children suffering severe mental disabilities whilst she is clearly very academic. Harrison a lonely, failed architect, opens the play with a suicide attempt. The stakes are extraordinarily high for both and this production does not avoid confronting the sometimes brutal reality of Katherine’s options. We see her journey from Special Ed class to famed architect, through this tempestuous relationship with her inspirational teacher.
Steven’s dialogue is sharp and pacey. At first it’s hard to grasp every word Katherine/Stevens speaks but it doesn’t take long to habituate the ear and the powerful authenticity of the performance is well worth the loss of a few syllables. Moving from biting humour to painfully poignant as she denies the vulnerable parts of herself, Katherine never submits. Jonathan McGuiness performance, by contrast, has an understated intensity. As his teacher pupil relationship turns into something deeper, he attempts to navigate the complexity of this dynamic and we too are asked to examine our own preconceptions.
‘No matter what anybody says, she wouldn’t be where she is now, without me’ says Harrison, who narrates the drama which unfolds over seven scenes across their twenty year relationship. He may have the power of narrator and older white male but from the first moment she breaks into his apartment, age fourteen, hands bleeding from the effort, it’s clear which one of the two is going to triumph. Although dependent on physical support, Stevens does not want to be ‘cared for’ by Harrison or anyone for that matter and the look in her eye as she fights every step of the way speaks volumes.
Schism offers a deeply human and refreshing take on the power play at the heart of our relationships. It examines the way in which relationships are formed and broken as two individuals are caught in each others battle for survival.
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