n the Traverse’s intimate second stage, writer/director Matthew Wilkinson conjures a stark drama about the traumatic and challenging effects of grief. Telling the story of an Ossetian architect whose family perish in an air accident- based on real events- we see how he mentally and physically processes the grief. The unravelling of Nikolai Koslov (Cal MacAninch) is mostly provoked by the fact that the accident was the fault of a lone air traffic controller’s mistake. In the aftermath of such a massive loss, the correct and just apportioning of blame take on a level of tragic importance for Koslov.
This is an economical production that uses the bare minimum of staging- two chairs- to allow the content at the heart of the production to breathe. Alongside Thusitha Jayasunder, who plays a number of characters with aplomb, MacAninch’s architect is overwhelmed by grief. The lack of visual distractions allow attention to focus on the human pain at the centre of this tale. MacAninch’s studied performance of tormented stoicism is a joy but he is occasionally upstaged by the versatile Jayasunder who inhabits a range of characters from school children to therapists.
As time wends on it becomes clear that the healing process for such acute emotional pain is unrelenting. Tortured by his memories we hear of how the pain physically wears away at Koslov as he tries to mend his fragile psyche in the aftermath of this tragic event. The harrowing journey that we witness is one that we are only barely removed from, such is the power of this gripping performance. The denouement is handled with careful precision as we jump through time to the play’s conclusion.
The one detracting factor from this magnetic performance is that while it’s a compelling examination of the turmoil of the grieving process, it fails to stir the emotions in quite the way that such an emotive subject could hope to. The performances are textured and skilful, matching the sympathetic and nuanced writing. Because of these ingredients and the subject matter at hand one would expect to feel more. With such an insightful examination of personal struggle, perhaps this is intentional so as to treat the subject matter with a certain level of reverence. It certainly achieves this as one residing feature of the show is that one can’t fail to have more respect for the complex and destructive power of grieving.
Image: courtesy of production