Kathleen Rea's Men's Circle

Men’s Circle

Director, Choreographer, Writer: Kathleen Rea

Dramaturge: Tristan Whiston

Cast/Co-creators: Harold Tausch (Paul Lewis, Understudy), Bill Coleman, Allen Kaeja, Kousha Nakhaei, Rudi Natterer, Deltin Sejour, Mateo Galindo Torres

With original songs by Ariel Lama, and original music by Kousha Nakhaei and Rudi Natterer

Betty Oliphant Theatre, Toronto

November 2-5, 2017


Men’s Circle begins with thirty or so casually dressed men milling about near to and on the stage, talking and relaxing in full light—then a loudspeaker announcement calls the men either to the lineup for Maple Leaf hockey star Auston Matthews autographs, or to a therapy group. Most of the men race away for the sports event.

Choreographer and writer Kathleen Rea is also a Registered Psychotherapist. Rea has focused Men's Circle on a therapy group consisting of men suffering from a range of problems, including the therapist, who is haunted by a failed therapy where his client, Frank, died. Joe (Allen Kaeja) is unable to express emotion or be vulnerable—he and his wife are having marital problems and his wife has urged him to go; Ran (Rudi Natterer) has been sent to mandated therapy by the courts; Hercules (Deltin Sejour) is a ballet dancer struggling in a harsh and macho world; Kevin (Kousha Nakhaei), still living at home, and on the autism spectrum, was urged by his parents to get social help; Matt (Mateo Galindo Torres) has drug addiction and anxiety problems and was sent to group therapy by his psychiatrist.

A large part of the focus of this piece is on men being unable to freely be themselves in a society where masculinity means internalizing weakness, and not expressing emotions.

The performers/dancers give voice to their own individual true experiences in words. Their body language illustrates their pain, suffering and vulnerbility in dance.

Bill Coleman plays Frank, the ghost of a homeless man who we see on stage left lying blanketed under the remnants of violin cases and sheets of music compositions. He moves in and around the men, unseen, identifying with their suffering and consoling them. Like the spirit of men supporting men, Frank has been killed by the society that abandoned him. Coleman takes on several Christ inspired poses. In one, he moves slumped over, burdened by an opened violin case that is pierced by arrows. A similar prop was employed in Coleman's Dora Award Winning “Dollhouse” last year.

Kevin (Kousha Nakhaei) is lonely and withdrawn. Trapped by obsessive repetitions and ritualized actions that relieve his anxiety—like constantly touching his backpack and pointing out its reflective white tape—Kevin walks in straight lines, and has been unable to develop his potential as a violinist in what for him is a hostile world.

Matt breaks down, weeping and suicidal and suffers an overdose. Hercules depicts his existence as a black man trying to thrive in a racist world. Joe’s very artificially cheerful presence looms over the others, with his blustering and denial— all is well with him, he insists.

The therapist (understudy Paul Lewis ably replaced Harold Tausch, who was sidelined by illness) also has issues. The therapist misses a session, citing appendicitis pain, leaving the group members to try to move forward without him. Ran helps Kevin do his therapy homework; Joe shows a soft side, helping others; each of them struggles with his own self-imposed restrictions and problems.

This is a very charming and moving show. Watching Joe—brightly and evocatively played by Allen Kaeja—change to the point that he can speak of and for himself and can enjoy listening and helping is fascinating. Kevin’s alteration from severely hidebound boy to a man who plays beautiful music with his friend Ran caused quite a few audience members to cry. Showing the emotional wounds of the therapist keeps him human and binds him to the group and to us in the audience. The scene where he holds the ghost of Frank, the ghost only he can see, suggests recognizing and dealing with a feeling of responsibility for Frank’s death.

The characters are drawn with sharp and clear strokes, and the performers bring them to identifiable and vivid life. We care about all of them, and struggle with them to be better, to heal and to grow.

The sessions have a raw improvised feel to them, as they would in real life. They are punctuated by Rea's choreograpy, as the dancers express body releasing, liberation and healing. The music, especially the violin and piano played on stage live by Natterer and Nakhaei, provides punctuation dramatically and is lively and beautiful. The lighting similarly works to isolate, flood or gently lift and focus the action—when the men are in a circle, floating and flapping a large white parachute between them, it is as if light is emanating from the white cloth. Everything in this show is carefully shaped, but it does not feel artificial—it moves organically as the men change, like life.

Men’s Circle ends as it began, with the male volunteers back on stage, conversing. A few, including Coleman, move part way up the stairs into the audience, creating a dreamlike zone where we are complicit, like the world, in their suffeiring, and joyous in their successes.