A Stroke of Malice
Alexandra Centre Society
August 1, 2, 4 and 5
In the Calgary Fringe Festival brochure, A Stroke of Malice is described as “A story…..that exposes the horror and malignancy of elder abuse.” To my mind, the only thing that was truly abused in this play was my time spent watching it.
Based on a true story, the play tells the tale of a post-stroke older woman named Hazel who has come to a social worker’s office seeking some kind of ambiguous help. Hazel presents as a fairly senile, rambling, critical and self-deprecating senior citizen who is suspicious of social workers and is reluctant to talk about personal matters. After several forgetful moments however, Hazel, with the prodding of the social worker, finally tells her story with the mental acuity of someone who not only does not have memory problems, but is pretty much in control of all her mental faculties. In other words, a character switch that is more than a little jarring.
Hazel’s story turns out not to be the account of elder abuse so much as the story of an ex-husband screwing his physically handicapped ex-wife out of all her possessions and finances. It’s a horrible story to be sure, there is violence and rape and verbal abuse and the story could have really elicited a deep emotional reaction from the audience. But for me the story fizzled for a whole number of reasons.
Right from the start I was totally put off by Sydney John’s portrayal of the social worker, Rose. John played her as sarcastic, compassionless and impatient and did so with a high-schoolish delivery. I don’t mean to suggest that all social workers are Mother Theresa, but surely a social worker specializing in the elderly and who sincerely wants to coax a story out of Hazel would have been more professional. To cut John a break, the lines didn’t leave her much room for great acting. Upon hearing Hazel’s atrocious story of abuse, Rose comments “The horror of what you went through is so horrible, how did you get through it”? I was not the only person in the audience who groaned at that one.
Carrie Schiffler as Hazel brings some light to the production with her elderly shuffle, semi-paralysis and dizzying patter. But as good as she is, she cannot outpace the script which piles one awful event on top of another without enough room to digest. Hazel talks non-stop for the last 45 minutes of the play when what were really called for were some silences.
The play ends with a surprise, and I will not spoil it here except to say that while I didn’t see it coming and even if it is true, it felt false and implausible due to the its rushed nature and awkward acting all around.
Dark and disturbing is a tough genre to pull off. It requires great acting and a solid script. The way I experienced it, A Stroke Of Malice had little of either.
For the guys – A poorly configured play about an elderly female stroke victim being raped and swindled will most likely not float your boat. SKIP IT
For the girls – You’ll feel sorry for Hazel, but you won’t emotionally connect with her or the story. SKIP IT
For the occasional audience – There are WAY better plays about abuse at this year’s Fringe. Go see Spitting in the Fact of the Devil instead. SKIP IT
For the theatre junkies – Frustration at what could have been an interesting play is no fun. SKIP IT