The Air Loom — Looming Large

Vancouver’s Kevin Kraussler and Ming Hudson wrote and perform the show. It alternates between two separate stories and time periods: the first recorded case of schizophrenia, James Matthews, hospitalized in London’s ‘Bedlam’ asylum in the late 18th century and a current story of a delusional woman and her daughter that was drawn from the real-life exposure of the cast.

The play opens with a male physician speaking to our audience as if we were a professional jury. He presents a patient suffering from delusions who has been hospitalized for many years. They are reviewing his mental status in order to make a decision on whether he should be released. The patient talks about his delusions and the jury is able to get a feeling for their apparent reality and power over him. In some deft gender bending, the two actors then represent a mother and her daughter.

The stage has a 2 X 3 “loom” (mirror frame) in the centre-back of the stage. There are also balls of yarn that can be rolled and hooked on the loom and stage. The actors move seamlessly from one scene and role to the next. The lights stay on, the actors stay on stage, and the frequent scene changes are effected by changes in the clothes of the actors which are folded and adjusted, and balls of yarn that are unwound and spread around the loom like a schizophrenic net.

A 21st century mother and daughter communicate, and the daughter is confused, upset, and uncertain as to what reality to subscribe to – her mentally ill mother, whom she loves, or the orderly world, which she can observe, explain and understand. This is hard on the daughter, as she feels torn between loyalty to and love for her mother, and her adherance to what she believes are more sensible actions.

Although powerful, the play is somewhat disjointed. However, the stagecraft and especially the costuming provide continuity and linkage between the centuries-apart storylines. The costumes were particularly clever, as they could be adjusted by each actor, or with the assistance of the other actor, and transform the scene and the story. The effect was that the stories and characters melded, and the metamorphoses were smooth and transparent.

Approximately one Canadian in five will suffer from mental illness in their lives. This play provides a perspective on schizophrenia. Mental health brochures were distributed at the conclusion of the play.

By Randall MacKinnon